Growing up in Waianae, Donna Cottrell ‘22 says she felt the sting of healthcare inequality firsthand.
It wasn’t just that care was difficult to access.
“It was that a lot of times, our voices weren’t heard,” she said.
The experience (and her drive to change it) is what drew her to the field of osteopathic medicine and a career where she could consider the whole patient—mind, body, and spirit. And this summer, she moved to Arizona to pursue her dream at A.T. Still University’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The Biology major said she took advantage of Chaminade’s articulation agreement with A.T. Still University to secure early admission to the prestigious program. She was also awarded a merit-based Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship for her studies, which will cover all four years of her medicine program’s tuition.
Needless to say, she’s a little excited.
“The day they called me to say I’d gotten in, I was over the moon,” Cottrell said. “I just ran to my grandma’s room and was just screaming, ‘I got in! I got in!’ This was my biggest dream and I got it.”
Cottrell and her siblings were raised by their father, a fish diver.
“He didn’t graduate from high school,” said Cottrell, but instilled a strong love for education in his children. Cottrell said she felt inspired to succeed so she could strike out on her own and attend college.
She also knew what she wanted in a university: small class sizes, a strong sense of community, and opportunities to connect with professors and mentors. She found all that at Chaminade, she said, and enrolled after graduating from Wai‘anae High School. After a search of Chaminade’s website, she also applied for—and received—the Ho’oulu STEM Scholarship to cover four years of tuition and other costs.
“It’s not just a scholarship, it’s a community,” said Cottrell, of the Ho’oulu program, which offers participants career development, paid internships and culturally informed service-learning projects.
“The Hooulu program has been a huge help.”
As she participated in Ho’oulu offerings, Cottrell also made progress on her academic goals and embraced her newfound independence. She moved into the dorms. She started making friends. And she juggled a busy schedule. “It made me stand on my own two feet,” she said.
And after wrapping up her freshman year, she got a summer experience that would solidify her dream of going into healthcare. Through Chaminade, she applied for and got a spot in a summer health professions program at UCLA for students from underrepresented communities.
During the program, she shadowed doctors and learned from her peers.
She also gained something else: Confidence.
‘I want to be able to help’
Cottrell realized she really did have an opportunity to make a difference—and to help her own community and places like it. She was also inspired by a more personal experience: her younger brother was born with a serious heart condition and required treatment on the mainland. She remembers watching the doctors and nurses and arriving at this thought: “They could do something.”
“That kind of drew me in. I want to be able to help,” she said, adding her brother is now doing great.
In her sophomore and junior years, Cottrell started working with her advisors and mentors at Chaminade. She said the university’s articulation agreement was a perfect way to prepare for a big challenge—and a big opportunity. It meant a guaranteed interview with the graduate program of her dreams. “It took the stress off so I was able to focus on my grades and on succeeding,” she said.
Cottrell said one of the reasons she chose A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine is because the program puts a special emphasis on health disparities. During her junior year, she was also given the chance to shadow a pediatrician for six months at Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center to get a taste for what it’s actually like to serve the community where she grew up.
It got her excited about the future. But right now, she’s a little more focused on the present—and thriving in medical school. In May, after receiving her Chaminade diploma, she became a first generation college graduate. The next box she’s going to tick in life: “I’m going to be the first doctor in my family.”