Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meet Jolene Galbreath, PhD

What if you needed a doctor? What if you could choose a doctor that had the same values as you? Someone who believed that whole foods were the best medicine? What if your doctor could give you top notch breastfeeding advice from both professional and personal experience? What if you knew that your doctor had had a VBAC at home because she believed that was the best choice for her and her family? What if this doctor also had a degree from a very well respected medical college like Kings College of London? What if such a doctor was winding her ways through the halls of medicine right now, but because she was an adult, a mother, she didn't qualify for most traditional student loans. What if there was a way that you could help such a doctor?

Meet Jolene Galbreath. I met Jolene in 1993 during my first year in high school. She was in the grade ahead of me and we became friends. I was always impressed with Jolene's drive, trustworthiness and honesty. She worked very hard in school (much harder than I did) and her grades were stellar. Upon graduation she found herself in the United Kingdom and went on to receive a PhD in biology from the University of Leeds. She and her husband, David, have two young boys. The first was delivered by cesarean section and the second was a VBAC homebirth assisted by a midwife because Jolene believed that if she went to the hospital, she would end up with another c-section.

Her experiences giving birth and caring for her children have made her realize that the medical profession is where she belongs. She believes that access to health care should be equitable and affordable to all. I rather agree. Denying care or giving lower quality care to someone who has fewer means is ethically wrong. Yet it happens every day. Between aggressive modern obstetrics that relies upon medical intervention, poor breastfeeding instruction and support, and venomous self serving formula companies, there are many obstacles for women to overcome when they bear children. And not every pregnant woman is educated enough about her options to navigate such a path and make a choice that is truly her own. Jolene felt that studying traditional western medicine was her opportunity to add value to an area that could desperately use some.

Recently Jolene and her family moved from Aberdeen in Scotland further south to Bristol. And even more recently she was accepted to the Kings College London as a medical student. She will begin commuting from Bristol to London every day to take her classes. Her plan is to write a book about being a wife and mother and non-traditional medical student for others who may be considering a similar path. Having children should be a labor of love or an added layer of experience and responsibility to one's life, but they should not be permanent road blocks to any mother.

Jolene has started a blog to document her journey, White Coat, Bluestocking. Being an older non-traditional student, she is ineligible for most grants and student tuition loans. While she has secured her tuition money through her own networks, she is currently searching for funding for her extensive commute. Like any smart working mother, she is planning on utilising the commute time to work on her studies and to write her blog and book. As an equally driven woman, I am very impressed by her drive, desires, vision and constitution.

Through a link on her blog, she has set up a page at Crowdfunder. Jolene is looking for 8000 pounds for her studies. The program is 5 years long and this should cover her commuting costs. With Crowdfunder, you can pledge large but also small amounts, 10 and 20 pounds if you please. BUT...Crowdfunder only releases the monies if the goal has been reached. Jolene currently has over 6500 pounds to go, and 40 days to do it in. I felt that given her commitment to limited medical intervention and natural living, I wanted to do everything I could to get the word out about her case.

Take a moment today to check out Jolene's blog and hear her story in her own words. Please donate if you are able, or share on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine if more doctor's were like Jolene? Imagine if you could go to the doctor without apologizing for deferring a shot, or not feel bad for investigating and asking questions? Think of all the times you have been seen by a doctor that didn't listen to the whole story of what was the matter, or simply wouldn't listen. Jolene is the kind of person that can make a difference in other's lives. She is smart and capable and she has natural ,non-processed values. That is the kind of doctor that I want to say is my primary care physician. So please, if you are able, help.

I asked Jolene to say a few words about where she has come from, where she is and where she is going...

In between the two boys, I became involved in the National Childbirth Trust As a consequence of our difficulty accessing good help with breastfeeding, I decided that it was an area that I could give back. Because I firmly believe that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing (even more so when it is coupled with good intentions and a bit of survivor syndrome), I decided that I needed to do this properly and I started training with them to complete a diploma in breastfeeding counseling (with the University of Bedfordshire). I have nearly completed the course and will continue to volunteer with them.

My interest in maternal and fetal health has grown out of my background as an evolutionary biologist and parasitologist, my feminism and my personal experiences. (Whenever I think that perhaps I'm not needed in the system, I visit a blog like 'My OB Said What' or 'The Unnecessarean' or any on the state of the NHS and I realize that I'm just what's needed).

I think that my scientific qualities give me a level headedness and competence while my empathy and sense of self allow me to hear the patient and to be comfortable with the idea that they own their health. I think that paternalism (and perhaps kyriarchy, but that is something I am not yet educated enough in to explore fully) is particularly prevalent in the delivery of health care. I am certain that I think that this is common for many patients, but particularly women and minorities. Clearly, I think that benevolent paternalism is a poor method of healthcare provision. But, I ramble.

In Aberdeen, I shared a community garden with another amazing and inspirational family. At this point, we started moving away from just buying organic veg boxes and whole foods because they were touted as healthy to paying more attention to issues of sustainability as well. It has also, honestly, been great for us and the kids to grow the food that we eat. We're on our second lot of chickens (the first were served as our going away meal when we left Aberdeen-that may be too much information :) ) and the boys love feeding them scraps and collecting their eggs.

At the moment, I think that I will head into the Ob-Gyn /perinatology world. I would love to work in perinatology. My interest is in how the 9+9+9 months surrounding the birth of a child affect both the mother and child's lifelong health and well-being. I also think that I would be an able surgeon and that surgery would match well with my skills and personality. It would be an opportunity to have the best of both worlds.

I think that there is so much evidence that this 27 month period is very important, to the extent that your mother's in-utero experience will influence your development. Amazing stuff. I would love to run a unit someday where people (patients and staff), biology and evidence are respected. I think that the three are not at odds; perhaps they are only at odds with the funding models :)

Of course, it depends very much how the boys cope with my training and on the positions that are available when I graduate. I am by no means limiting my interests at this point! If the strain is too great, then I will become a general practitioner specialising in women's and children's health.

Thanks Jolene! I truly hope that we can make this happen! And thank you guys for reading and helping!

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays


  1. Thank you very much for highlighting my project and my cause! I greatly appreciate your enthusiasm for what I am doing and your belief that I should.

    I just wanted to clarify that I hold a PhD in Biology from the University of Leeds and that I will be studying for a medical degree (rather than a PhD) from King's College London. At the end of five years, I should be a Dr.-Dr. :)

    Thank you,

  2. Thanks Jolene, I have made the corrections. Thanks for clarifying! I don't have any graduate degrees, so I don't always know!