2023 Outstanding Student Achievement Award: Master’s Community Service Category
Rhode-Armelle Jean Jacques ’23
Physician Assistant Program
“Community is a huge part of everything that I’ve done,” said Rhode-Armelle Jean Jacques, the winner of the 2023 Graduate Medical Sciences Outstanding Student Achievement Award in the Master’s Community Service category.
Born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Jacques and her mother sought refuge in Miami, Florida, due to ongoing political instability in the country. Jean Jacques completed high school and her undergraduate degree in Miami, graduating from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry in 2016.
She also obtained a Master of Public Health from George Washington University in 2020 prior to starting the Boston University Physician Assistant Program in 2021.
For Jean Jacques, completing the PA program at BU has given her several unique opportunities to serve her community, as the Greater Boston metropolitan area is home to the third-largest population of Haitians in the United States.
“Haiti has a special place in my heart because it’s home,” Jean Jacques said. “The fact that I’m able to practice medicine and do what I do and be able to give back to my community is very special to me.”
Jean Jacques describes her own experience as a refugee in the United States as an important part of her journey that ultimately led her to BU and to complete the service project that earned her the Outstanding Student Achievement Award.
The project, titled “A Warm Welcome for Babies & Families Winter Essentials Fundraiser & Drive,” came from Jean Jacques’ experience in her OB-GYN rotation at Boston Medical Center in October and November 2022.
During that rotation, Jean Jacques had the chance to speak with many refugee patients in the labor & delivery unit. Hearing their stories, Jean Jacques learned that many of these mothers and their families were adjusting to the cold Boston winter weather for the first time.
“There really is a need here to have [these patients] be able to make an easier transition and then to get them the help that they need,” Jean Jacques said.
Jean Jacques spearheaded the project and partnered the Physician Assistant Program with the BMC midwives to collect supplies and raise funds for frequently needed items, such as portable cribs, car seats, diapers and clothing. The fund also collected donations of new or gently used winter coats and accessories to help keep families and their new babies warm.
To facilitate this project, Jean Jacques worked alongside BMC Director of Childbirth Education Cesylee Nguyen, CNM, MSN, RN, as well as PA Program Director Susan White, MD, and Jean Jacques’ classmates.
“We got so many supplies, more than we knew what to do with,” Jean Jacques said. “Classmates were also able to help me organize a lot of the stuff that we got.”
Prior to PA school, Jean Jacques completed several other community projects, including a Christmas Party and Gift Giveaway at Center Stepinac, an orphanage located in Bon Repos, Haiti.
Because of COVID and other safety concerns, Jean Jacques has been unable to return to Haiti to help with the project in-person. She said that working with the Haitian community via the BMC fundraiser and drive has been another good way to continue to give back.
Jean Jacques also taught over 500 students as a full-time teacher before starting the PA program, teaching sixth grade science, high school anatomy & physiology, eighth grade mathematics and marine biology. She describes her time as a teacher as “the most humbling experience [she has] ever had,” one that she has connected to her ongoing journey into medicine.
“It [reaffirmed] my passion for working and connecting with people,” Jean Jacques said. “I love teaching. There’s definitely a teaching aspect to medicine as well.”
For Jean Jacques, a valuable part of her time in the PA program has been connecting her teaching experiences to her ongoing journey in medicine. She has valued the opportunities she has had to work on interdisciplinary relationships very early on between her classmates and the medical students, as PA students take classes with second-year medical students during part of their didactic year.
She also credits many of her mentors and advisors for supporting her throughout her time at BU, including White, Ngyuen and BU PA Program alum Philip Bondzie, a physician assistant at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.
When her journey through the PA program has been overwhelming, Jean Jacques has valued opportunities to work within her surrounding communities. She recommends that all students try to step away from their studies from time to time and volunteer.
“There’s so little time, but a little thing can just make such a huge difference in someone’s life,” Jean Jacques said. “Even if it’s volunteering somewhere just for a few hours, whenever you have the chance, I think you’ll get a lot more from that than you think that you’re losing time-wise.”