Medical student at uOttawa named 2022 Rhodes Scholar
By David McFadden
Ashley Jackson had just changed into her gym clothes and was about to start exercising when she got a phone call from a selection committee for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The second-year medical student at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine had interviewed for the highly competitive award earlier that day and wasn’t sure it had gone well.
But when the committee told her she was on speaker phone, she realized it had likely gone far better than she initially perceived.
“I thought: OK, this is probably good news. Because that would be really rude to reject me over speaker phone!” she says with a laugh.
It was indeed good news. Jackson was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar, one of just 11 students in Canada to be selected as a member of the storied international fellowship’s latest class.
Next year, the 23-year-old uOttawa learner will join an international cohort of over 100 high-achieving young scholars at the University of Oxford, the oldest English language university in the world. The coveted scholarship covers financial expenses to pursue a degree there over two to three years.
At Oxford, Jackson plans to complete a two-year master’s degree in oncology, which specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, the globe’s second leading cause of death.
“Obviously, everyone has been affected by cancer one way or another. So it’s something that I definitely want to spend my life working on,” she says.
The tremendous toll that cancer imposes on families and health systems is something Jackson knows only too well.
Her father was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was 17. Since then, he’s gone through radiation, surgery, remission and recurrence. Jackson’s selection for the Rhodes is a source of great pride for her family and friends, but perhaps it is most meaningful for her dad, a mechanic in the rural Ontario town of Chatham.
“I think for him it’s a positive thing to come out of this really negative thing,” says Jackson, born and raised in Chatham.
It isn’t easy becoming a Rhodes Scholar. Applicants must demonstrate outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service. Since its inception over a century ago, the Rhodes Scholarships have helped launch the careers of scores of prominent Canadians from a multitude of fields.
Jackson herself has been a high achiever at uOttawa and beyond. Her application for the Rhodes was endorsed by Dalhousie, where she majored in medical sciences as an undergraduate and played varsity basketball.
“We are very proud of Ashley and of her selection to be a Rhodes Scholar. She is a tremendous student, athlete and ambassador for uOttawa,” says Dr. Chuck Su, interim vice-dean of undergraduate medical education at the Faculty. “She is excelling here in Ottawa, as we expect that she will do the same at Oxford.”
When she’s done with her degree at Oxford, Jackson plans to return to uOttawa to finish her last two years of medical school. Ultimately, she wants her medical career to make a difference here in Canada.
“I think that’s part of the reason why it would be so cool to go to Oxford now, experience something else, and then be able to take that knowledge and everything I learned and bring it back here to make the Canadian health care system better,” she says.
She’s not intimidated at the thought of attending Oxford, with its history dating back to 1096 and its ornate stonework spires and quadrangles. She is a little worried that she won’t graduate with her current classmates at uOttawa.
“That’s probably the part I’m most nervous about—having to say goodbye to my good friends and classmates,” she says.
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