A baseball fan turns surgeon for the best of reasons
For Angela Jenkins, M02, it all started with a torn rotator cuff.
Not hers, but that of New York Mets shortstop Kevin Elster. Jenkins was barely in her teens, an ardent Mets fan living in East Orange, N.J., and Elster was her favorite player. "I had no clue what a rotator cuff was," she begins, "and so I went to the library to look it up." There, she learned the injury could be fixed with arthroscopic surgery. "So then I went, 'Oh man, what's arthroscopic surgery?' " Jenkins continues. "Next thing I know, I'm in medical school and addicted to caffeine."
But that's getting ahead of the story. Jenkins had always loved sports. In the absence of a dad, her mom worked long hours as a nurse and often left Angela in the care of her grandparents in nearby Paterson on the weekends. Her grandparents were "a huge influence" in her development, says Jenkins. They took her to church every Sunday. That was one kind of devotion. Her grandfather, a Mets fan, simultaneously induced her to share his passion for baseball on languorous afternoons in front of the TV.
Meanwhile, back home, Jenkins ran track—mostly distance events like the 800 meters and the mile—and served as statistician for her high school squad. As injuries befell various members of the team, she got in the habit of visiting the library to school herself on the intricacies of muscle, tendon and bone. Then she would show up at practice to inform the injured runner matter-of-factly: "You have a stress fracture."
The precociousness was typical. Jenkins sat down one day at age 15 to decide what career path made sense, given her abiding love of sports. She came up with two possible careers, architect and doctor. "I thought I could build baseball stadiums or I could fix players," she says, as though these musings were as natural to a teenage mind as landing a date for Saturday night. "Well, I thought, how many stadiums are there to be built?" By this reasoning, Jenkins decided to pursue medicine the same way her best friend at school might have picked Steve over Bob, since Bob didn't have a car.
Jenkins has a way of making even the nuttiest forms of behavior—her own—sound eminently reasonable. When it came time for selecting a college or university, she notes, the contenders on her list had to meet two simple requirements: They had to have an affiliated hospital containing a nationally ranked department of orthopedic surgery, and they had to be located in a town with a major league baseball team. Johns Hopkins fit the bill, and so that's where she went.
At Hopkins, she made herself indispensable as a student athletic trainer, folding towels and fetching ice for the soccer, women's lacrosse, baseball and basketball teams. Hanging around athletes and traveling in their company equaled pure gold to Jenkins. "I loved it so much," she says softly, adrift in the memory of those days. "I thought, 'This is great. This is what I want.' " Although Jenkins had shunned being an active sports participant in college in order to shine as a scholar, she ended up spending an exorbitant amount of time—35 or 40 hours a week, she says—tending the aches and sprains of her fellow students.
Tufts School of Medicine represented the logical next stop. Jenkins hit the books for a year before remembering her first love. She ventured over to Fenway Park in spring 1999 and applied for a summer job as a grounds crew member or tour guide. The man who hired her told her he was impressed, looking at her application, that she had been willing to work on the lowly grounds crew in order to get a job. Jenkins led hour-long tours of the fabled ballpark for bunches of fans all that summer and again this past spring for six weeks.
"The ball I threw while playing in the park / Has not yet reached the ground," wrote Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The demure but unstoppable Jenkins must know something of that sentiment. This summer she began her residency at the University of Massachusetts Program in orthopaedic surgery.