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Winner of the Changing the World Scholarship

Joshua Andrew Hensley

Joshua’s essay perfectly encapsulates how, through his experience with a chronic health condition, he seeks to better the world through a career as a physician-scientist. By dedicating his career to improving the lives of others, Joshua embodies everything our Changing the World Scholarship strives to recognize.

Joshua Andrew Hensley

Read Joshua’s Essay:

Around fourteen years old, I started experiencing symptoms of Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract as if it were foreign. Throughout several years and two misdiagnoses, my physicians attempted treatment with all the first- and second-line medications available to control the disease. After the medications either failed or worked for only a short time, my gastroenterologist’s final prescription was lifelong low-dose chemotherapy and surgical colon removal. After much hesitation, I chose to have my colon removed at twenty-one years old.

Throughout the latter part of my battle with Crohn’s disease, I was also learning and growing as a healthcare worker. I worked in a hospital laboratory as a phlebotomist, collecting blood samples from patients in a wide variety of settings. I saw how critical a quality specimen is to accurate test results, which was crucial to inform physician decisions for patient care. This experience was invaluable in becoming familiar with healthcare in practice and the many environments that diagnostics, evaluation, treatment, and recovery occur. I also learned of many background laboratory procedures and practices involved in assessment and diagnostics, and their important role in patient care.

Through these experiences, I have seen both sides of patient care. I lived the patient experience firsthand. I know what it is like to lie in the hospital bed, to be on the receiving end of healthcare, and to go under the surgeon’s scalpel. On the other hand, I have worked with healthcare professionals to deliver quality healthcare to patients suffering from various illnesses. This fills me with a deep sense of compassion for those who are ill and suffering and a fervent drive to do what I can to increase patients’ quality of life and assist healthcare workers by developing better testing and treatment. I do not want anyone to suffer as I have or like others who were worse off than me, and I believe that advancements can be made in medicine to that end. I ardently desire to push the boundaries of biomedical knowledge, enhancing the capabilities of medicine. This desire has brought me to finish my bachelor’s degree, making me the first in my family to hold a college degree – and it urges me to continue my studies in graduate school.

My goal is to become a physician scientist to conduct biomedical research in the expanding subfield of the human gut microbiota—the community of microorganisms in the digestive tract. Dysbiosis – the disrupted composition of the gut microbiota -- has been linked to many various and prevalent chronic diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Through researching the interactions of the gut microbiota and human health and disease, I aim to elucidate how lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors contribute to dysbiosis and how medicine could manipulate the microbiota for improving human health. Being awarded this scholarship would support me on my mission to expand biomedical knowledge, enhance the capabilities of healthcare, and improve the quality of life for millions of people.

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