Jonathan Abelson
University of Virginia School of Medicine
Age: 27

 "When I read about the characteristics of Dr. Kean, I instantly felt a connection to his work. I have every intention of continuing that tradition in my career."



I grew up in Scarsdale, New York, as the youngest of three boys. I attended the University of Pennsylvania for my undergraduate training, majoring in Bioengineering. I am currently in my fourth and final year of medical school at UVA, and am in the process of applying for a residency in general surgery.

What impact will the 2011 Kean Fellowship have on your future?
This is a huge opportunity for me to advance my understanding in the global health field. There is so much to learn and experience, and the Fellowship brings me one step closer to developing a career in this field. On a more personal note, when I read online about the characteristics of Dr. Kean, I instantly felt a connection to his work. This was not merely a memorial to one project that Dr. Kean undertook, but rather, it was very clearly a celebration of the type of person that he was. I have every intention of continuing that tradition in my career, and winning this Fellowship will keep me on track. 

Describe some of your most memorable travel or work experiences.
Perhaps the most exciting trip that I took was my first visit to Ghana in 2008, immediately before medical school. I had never visited a country in the developing world. I remember being very nervous the moment I walked out of the airport, because I knew that I was in a totally different situation than what I was used to. It didn’t take long though for me to realize that I could relax and be myself, just like I was used to doing in New York. I spent six weeks in a remote town with very poor Internet and cell phone access. I remember being very surprised when each and every single person asked me what it was like to live in New York City; I suppose I took it for granted that I had access to such an amazing city, and I very much enjoyed telling people about life in the Big Apple. Despite reminiscing about home frequently, I was very sad to leave Ghana. I had formed close relationships with a number of individuals and I was worried that I would lose contact with them. I am very excited to be traveling back there in a few months, especially with a wealth of experience in medical school behind me. 

What advice would you give to those just entering school or trying to determine their specialty or field of interest?
It is important to put any preconceived notions on the shelf temporarily while you do your rotations. You have to go into every single rotation thinking that this might be the specialty you choose. It is OK if it doesn’t take long for you to realize you won’t be going into that area of medicine, but you can’t fully make that decision before you see what it is really like. It is crucial to learn what you can from the rotation because that might be the last time you have such a rich opportunity to learn that information. Once you finish each of your rotations, take stock and see if you have changed your mind from the start of medical school. Drawing this comparison will help you realize what is important to you when choosing a specialty.