Kristine Nachbor’s journey to the Jan Maudlin Sarcoma Scholars program started with elephants.
She planned to study them in West Africa, where she would spend two years completing her Master’s degree from Michigan Tech through a special Peace Corps program. During that time, she would conduct research and teach biology to students.
While teaching in West Africa, she noticed that her students were often sick. “I needed to understand what was going on in their lives, and I couldn’t help them with education alone. I needed to focus on health,” she says. Her research interests changed from animals to the people around her, and she decided to study medicine at the University of Minnesota.
Upon returning home to begin medical school, Kristine made a shocking discovery: three family members — including her mom — had been diagnosed with cancer. Over the next several months, Kristine learned about the disease as both a doctor-in-training and a concerned family member. As part of her commitment to fighting the disease and helping people navigate their cancer care, she applied to Rein in Sarcoma’s (RIS) Jan Maudlin Sarcoma Scholars program.
The Jan Maudlin Sarcoma Scholars program has awarded 50 year-long scholarships to medical students at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine since 2009. The program is named after Jan Maudlin, a sarcoma survivor diagnosed with Myxoid Liposarcoma in 2001 following several misdiagnoses and treatment delays. Jan and her husband, Tim, fund the program to engage the next generation of physicians and researchers who will care for future sarcoma patients.
Scholarship recipients work with faculty members and Rein in Sarcoma to increase awareness of this rare disease among multiple audiences. Students deliver educational lectures to other medical students and take on special projects. For example, Kristine is leading a public research project to figure out what types of information people wish they had when they or a loved one were diagnosed with cancer; this input will be used to create resources for new patients. She also focuses on physicians, encouraging them to mind the sarcoma alert that pops up in the medical records system if a patient shows symptoms indicative of a sarcoma. And she is evolving the 8th edition of Rein in Sarcoma’s Patient Notebook to simplify the language and transfer the more detailed information to the Rein in Sarcoma website.
Kristine’s medical education and skills are enhanced by the Jan Maudlin Sarcoma Scholars program and will ultimately make her a better physician. In addition to being connected with faculty and plugged into valuable research, teaching, and learning opportunities, she is building crucial skills, such as writing research applications, managing projects end-to-end, and tailoring communications to patients and physicians. Plus, the program allows her to give back and make a meaningful impact. “I am spreading sarcoma awareness more widely than I could otherwise and helping make real changes,” she says.
But most of all, she values the connection with Rein in Sarcoma’s community of patients and caregivers. “Their personal stories are powerful and give me insight into the vulnerable parts of people’s lives and the things they are dealing with,” she says. She also believes that these stories keep the humanity and compassion in medicine and will help the medical community remember sarcoma cancer in the future. Through the Jan Maudlin Sarcoma Scholars program, Kristine Nachbor is making far-reaching contributions towards increasing sarcoma awareness. Whether improving quality of life for patients or educating physicians and the public about this rare disease, her work will have both immediate and long-term beneficial effects on patient outcomes and the community.