Reflecting on My Externship Experience

The bulletproof glass doors were installed in 1988. They swung open before me as I entered the Boulder Abortion Clinic and began a hugely formative chapter in my medical training. During this time that I spent as a first-year medical student observing abortion care that ranged from the first to the third trimester, I was thrust into the personal, intimate details of the lives of each of our patients. From the 12-year-old girl abused by her family member to the 38-year-old mother of three who traveled from Europe after learning about her fetus’s anomaly, I gained a profound appreciation for providing nonjudgmental and compassionate care to anyone who walked through those same glass doors. At the same time, I began to cultivate the seeds of dedication, sacrifice, and unyielding passion demonstrated by each individual at the clinic that continue to inspire me and embolden my enthusiasm for a future in women’s health.

Jessica Chen, MD

Upon arriving at the clinic, I was warmly greeted by each staff member who ensured I would feel not only safe but supported. Each week was filled with a deluge of emotions, stories, and warmth while staff members carefully counseled patients during hour-long sessions and through oftentimes heart wrenching or sensitive decisions. “Shout Your Abortion” pamphlets or books nurturing healing after making the difficult choice to have an abortion were readily distributed to patients who desired their contents.

Dr. Hern, a prolific writer and committed educator, maintained the difficult and delicate balance between communicating to his patient and edifying me on his technique and decision-making processes. Outside of the examination room, he showered me with reading material, topics of interest to him in the news, and experiences he has accumulated traveling the far-reaches of the globe and providing care for women over the past fifty-plus years of his life. Dr. Hern taught me to be a safe, thorough, and caring physician while at the same time fostering in me a sense of responsibility to speak out for what you believe in, advocate for those in need, and research for future change.

When it came time to depart, I had planned on a courteous and swift goodbye as my flight was to take off directly after clinic ended on my last day. As I went to thank Dr. Hern and his staff for the time we had spent together over the past three weeks, I felt my throat tighten as tears began to spill from my eyes. As I was utterly shocked by this reaction, I began to profusely apologize for my elaborate display of emotion, but Dr. Hern simply shook my hand knowingly to dismiss my apology, easily understanding and perhaps even anticipating my reaction, however surprising it may have been to me.

Four years have passed since I first entered the Boulder Abortion Clinic and met Dr. Warren Hern, the trailblazing, dedicated, and now-octogenarian physician still practicing at the Boulder Abortion Clinic, which he founded 45 years ago. I am now about to embark on the next chapter of my career as an OBGYN resident with plans to pursue a fellowship in family planning. I have no doubt that the time I spent at the Boulder Abortion Clinic will stay with me throughout my career, and for that I am tremendously grateful to Medical Students for Choice, Dr. Hern, his staff, and each patient I was lucky enough to meet in the small, brick clinic nestled against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.