Nicole Letendre ’23
College of the Holy Cross Health Professions welcomed Dr. Helen Boucher ’86 for a discussion on her academic journey through Holy Cross, her current medical interests and specialization, and advice for students pursuing a medical degree. Dr. Boucher graduated from Holy Cross in the class of ’86, as a self-proclaimed English major with “some incredible mentors,” but possessing no particular talent in the sciences. In fact, she openly discussed her struggles with her STEM courses. During her time at Holy Cross, she was a resident assistant (RA) and a member of the swim team; later, she went on to marry her husband, who also attended Holy Cross. After receiving her degree, she worked as a teacher at Duchesne Academy in Houston, TX, and during the summers, she found opportunities to work in the operating room of the MD Anderson Cancer Institute. She went on to medical school, and is now a professor at Tufts University Medical School, as well as a member of the Tufts Medical School Admissions team. She has researched drug-resistant pathogens, and has been published in top medical journals.
Dr. Boucher gave a brief clinical presentation on the COVID-19 pandemic, and discussed her medical role. First, she described that it is caused by SARS-CoV-2, and is a novel coronavirus transmission that spreads via respiratory droplets when it encounters mucosal surfaces. Additionally, she discussed that there is evidence of transmission from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals. The “three Ws,” as she referred to them, are wearing a mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance. Both Tufts University, Boston College, and Emerson College are conducting tests, as well. According to Dr. Boucher, after analyzing the data, keeping places open is still safe in our state. Undoubtedly, scientists and medical professionals are always monitoring the situation, and Dr. Boucher has played an important role in care during this pandemic. In response to a question about the potential vaccine’s safety, Dr. Boucher responded “It has not had any shortcuts,” referring to vaccine development. Instead, she discussed that increased speed has to do with the manufacturing of potential vaccines, not the vaccine itself. Dr. Boucher raised critical questions about pediatric implications, stating “children and babies have not been getting their vaccines on schedule,” and she hopes to improve confidence in all vaccines, including a COVID vaccine to come. After her experience taking care of patients in the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic Dr. Boucher has helped alleviate fear, worked in clinical trials, talked to the press, and given numerous presentations.
Lastly, she offered some inspiring words to students pursuing higher education in a medical field. Grades, a strong GPA, and a genuine understanding of what you’re getting into by enrolling in medical school are obvious assets in a competitive medical school application. Shadowing, volunteering, working as an EMT, or conducting lab work or research are just a few ways to display your commitment to the medical profession. Beyond these standard application strengths, Dr. Boucher emphasized the importance of a student’s story, stating, “Your story has a big role,” and “The place to tell your story is in the personal statement.” The ability to participate fully in the interview process and dig deep in the personal statement are key components of the application process. Have questions, learn about the particular school, and be able to talk about yourself! Most importantly, Dr. Boucher values the “ability to seek and accept help.” Most likely, during any medical career you pursue, you will need to turn to a mentor and other professionals for guidance and insight, a skill that will contribute to your long-term success. No matter what path you take to medicine, Dr. Boucher reassured students, “I’ve never met one student who wanted it, and who grappled with it, and didn’t make it.”