After five years of exceptional life challenges, Newman biology alumna Taylor Spencer ‘20 is building a brighter future for herself and her son — starting with medical school on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
At 19 years old, Spencer became a mother to her son. Spencer had to balance being a freshman at Fort Hays State University, attending class, soccer practice and working 20 to 30 hours a week as a server — all while navigating motherhood.
“It was really hard,” Spencer said. “It made me grow up fast. I’d have to wait until he went to sleep before I could study. I lived with my son’s father and his mom (Marcella), and they basically helped me raise my son.”
She added, “Marcella is an angel, and I couldn’t have continued school and working without her help.”
Spencer said having her son has not only helped her sense of focus and time management, but he has acted as “the anchor to keep me on the right track,” she said.
After transferring to Butler Community College and earning her associate’s degree in biology, Spencer reached out to a few friends who were attending school at Newman University.
“Contacting them was the best decision,” Spencer said. “It was a no-brainer to attend Newman for my bachelor’s.”
Approaching setbacks with determination
It didn’t take long for Spencer to start leaving her mark within her classes at Newman. Associate professor of biology Michael Bradley was quick to notice Spencer’s drive and work ethic, he said.
“Being a college student and a single mom who is still quite young herself is a big challenge,” Bradley said. “And even in some of these pretty challenging chemistry courses, she did very well. She managed to succeed despite these obstacles, but the obstacles kept coming.”
In 2019 several Newman students, including Spencer, were preparing to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to apply to medical schools. Bradley and Spencer had a meeting scheduled to discuss the MCAT, but Spencer never arrived at his office.
“She didn’t show, and I didn’t hear anything from her,” Bradley said. “That’s very unusual for Taylor. She’s a very responsible young lady, so that was kind of odd. The next day I got a text that contained two X-rays and she had shattered an arm in a very, very serious single car accident.”
“Because of the accident, she wasn’t going to make the MCAT date,” Bradley said. “That set her back in a big way, an entire year.”
Bradley advised Spencer to alternatively spend that year gaining experience as a hospital scribe — an opportunity he described as “tremendous” for students applying to medical schools. Due to safety concerns during the pandemic, however, many hospitals were not accepting new scribes into emergency departments.
“So she had to travel to Hutch,” Bradley said. “And when students are just starting out, they’re often given night shifts. So that lady was driving to Hutch each day, staying up there all night with some sort of childcare arrangements for her kid back here in town, all so she can get these experiences that will be attractive to medical schools as she’s applying.”
Sacrifice and an unexpected loss
Spencer worked through each challenge as it came, but the obstacles did not end there.
In the middle of her years at Newman, Spencer’s father died suddenly at the age of 47 from a heart attack.
“Working as a scribe, I witnessed patients’ chest pains and my dad’s passing drove a deeper fire in me to provide care and help to others,” Spencer said. “I saw that personal interaction the physician had with family members, that sense of understanding, empathy and sympathy for what they were experiencing, and it just solidified my decision to help.”
The long hours spent as a scribe, which Spencer describes as her “favorite job of all time,” ultimately helped her secure a spot as a medical student at the Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados.
Spencer spent months researching Ross University before enrolling in the two-year program in Barbados. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Spencer’s weekdays are filled with studying and completing all the book work required to eventually return to the United States for clinical work at a hospital, followed by residency.
Spencer’s opportunity at Ross does not come without sacrifice, however. While she works toward her future as a health care professional, her five-year-old son is staying in the United States.
“It really hurts me to spend so much time away from my son,” Spencer said. “He’s staying with the father and I’m parenting from afar. I’ve sacrificed that traditional mother role. But I know in the long run he’ll understand that dreams are important, you only get one life and you have to follow your calling.”
Inspiring others through determination
Since Spencer graduated from Newman, she and Bradley keep in touch as she continues her medical school journey. Bradley said he is continually impressed with her commitment to her future.
“As a student she was never not working,” Bradley said. “That really impressed me early on. Having her son in the U.S. is a pretty major sacrifice in order to accomplish this goal, which is to get into and with any luck pass medical school so she can become a physician back here in the states.”
He added, “It goes to show that Taylor is a very diligent young lady and she isn’t going to let anything get in the way of her achieving these goals.”
For students who may be interested in pursuing medical school in the Caribbean, Spencer is happy to connect.
“I’m in the most beautiful place in the world, I’m passionate about studying and it’s a light that’s happening for me right now,” she said. “There are 50 to 100 schools down here so if anyone is interested, they can definitely contact me.”