Senior Baxley pursues future in German and medicine

by Kascha B. Semon | 11/19/98 6:00am

What can you do with a degree in German? Frances Baxley '99 hopes to use her degree to research geriatrics with German professors on a Fulbright scholarship. Baxley, a pre-med student, said she has taken as many science classes at Dartmouth as she has German, and her plans for the coming year reflect this balance.

After two terms abroad studying German, Baxley said she realized she loved studying the language. Baxley studied in Mainz, Germany on an Language Study Abroad her sophomore winter and extended her study through the Foreign Study Program in Berlin the following fall.

On her return, she did not change her goal of studying medicine, but she realized German was something she would "never have an opportunity to pursue later in life." She continued to take German classes and communicate with the friends she made during her time abroad.

Baxley began pursuing her interest in geriatrics, medicine for patients 65 and older, during her freshman year by volunteering at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. She worked through the Elder Life program, helping nurses and keeping patients company.

"You can really see over the course of a 30-minute conversation someone's mood change," Baxley said.

During her junior spring, Baxley spent an entire term working with the patients on a Dartmouth Partners in Community Service Scholarship, a domestic service funding program through the Tucker Foundation. Although these scholarships generally support students working outside the Upper Valley, the group granted Baxley's request to work within the Hanover area.

Through the program, Baxley said she established daily relationships with the people. She helped develop new programs to draw patients out of their rooms and concentrated on working with patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Over the term, Baxley said she became concerned with the quality of the communication in the doctor-patient relationship, specifically in elderly patients.

"I realized that even in a facility as good as the DHMC there were a lot of things that could be improved," said Baxley.

She noted that DHMC treats a fairly homogeneous population and she said she wondered what problems would arise in a more diverse population where patients have different needs and could experience communication problems in addition to medical problems. Even in DHMC's environment, she added, aspects of patient care can be improved.

She discovered a population in Germany suffering from exactly these problems: a large group of Turks living in Germany who moved from their home country during the 1960s in search of better work. Although most had intended to eventually return to Turkey, the majority settled in Germany and now these elderly form a unique community within German and within in its medical facilities.

"I am curious about how the care in [the German] hospitals is affected by communication with doctors," Baxley said.

Baxley decided to pursue this interest by applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to fund a year of research following graduation. During the summer after her junior year, she spoke with Dartmouth professors whose advice "was really encouraging," and then began making contact with hospices and professors in Germany.

After months of anxiously waiting, Baxley received word from several professors who were already working on this topic: one professor, an American living in Germany and previous Fulbright winner, served as an important resource.

While in Dusberg, Germany, she plans to work with three of these professors on their research and to pursue her own research through classes at the University.

"It really is a perfect way to tie together my two interests, it isn't just self-serving," Baxley said. "I think the experience will help me be a better doctor."

The Fulbright program does not require that scholars plan to produce a specific thesis or project from their work, although this may develop from their studies.

"That's what's nice about Fulbright -- they recognize that you can have a good idea without knowing how you're going to carry it out when you get there," Baxley said.

Baxley said she encourages students thinking about applying for a Fulbright to start working early. She said establishing contacts and obtaining letters of affiliation are important steps in proving to Fulbright that the project is well planned.

The application, available through the Career Services offices in the Collis Center, includes both a two-page personal statement and a two-page proposal describing why the project is important and why it must be conducted within the specific country.

The proposal must also be accessible to someone not familiar with the topic because it is evaluated by a series of committees -- first, a group at Dartmouth ranks the proposals of students applying, then a national committee reviews them and finally a group of individuals with knowledge of the specific topic examine them.

Baxley said she always needed to have a plan for herself, and being a doctor "seemed to combine my skills at science and working with people." For a while, she said she thought she wanted to be an environmental engineer, but after an internship her freshman summer, she decided she did not like industry.

She said she thinks she worries too much about her plans, however, and she said she feels her plans for next year developed when she was not worrying.

"Things just happened because I let myself enjoy what I was doing," she said. She said worrying too much about the future is "a sad way to go about Dartmouth."

This spring Baxley will take the MCATs and will spend most of the next few terms studying and preparing for the next year. And if she does not receive the scholarship, she has other plans.

"I'm not going to go home," said Baxley. "I'll go to Seattle and be a waitress. It will be a fun and interesting year ... I'll have no money and make my parents very concerned."