For some people, tragedy can lead to triumph, and for others such as Rachel Jenkins, tragedy can change trajectory.
“Originally, I had not planned to go to Malone (University), but to go to Arizona,” Jenkins, a 2013 Canfield High School graduate, remembered. “In my senior year (of high school), my dad had cancer, and he died a few months before I graduated.”
Jenkins, 27, was born in Fort Myers, Fla., but grew up in Canfield, then moved extensively, including to Virginia and Arizona. In 2000, she returned to Ohio and, five years later, back to Canfield to be closer to home, she explained.
The death of her father, Rick Jenkins, who managed several Target stores, “altered my trajectory” and was a major factor in her decision to attend Malone College in Canton.
Originally, Jenkins, who lives in Washington, DC, was considering entering nursing, but “I was really scared of blood and needles, so nursing didn’t make sense,” she said. Consequently, she made a major alteration to her course of study via opting to major in political science and philosophy, with a minor in history, before earning a bachelor’s degree in 2016 in philosophy and political science.
In May 2020, she earned a master’s degree in legislative affairs from George Washington University.
The next step on Jenkins’ trajectory was transforming her coursework into a career. For that, she “took a leap” by searching for internship positions in Washington, where she landed an unpaid one in the office of US Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland.
Her duties included conducting tours for constituents and managing Ryan’s legislative agenda. In addition, Jenkins served as the nine-term congressman’s legislative director until last June.
Afterward, Jenkins, who also was named Malone University’s 2022 Young Alumna of the Year and was class president, found a career opportunity with the American Hospital Association this summer, which was “a natural fit with my interests in health care policy,” she explained .
She serves as the AHA’s senior associate director on its Federal Relations Team. The position entails advocating before Congress on behalf of the needs of the country’s hospitals and health care systems.
“I’m still learning my new role, but it’s fascinating so far,” Jenkins said, adding, “Ninety percent of hospitals in the US are (AHA) members.”
Perhaps Jenkins couldn’t have signed on to her position in more challenging times, however. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, she appeared before Congress to express concerns about patients with the virus.
During the peak of the health crisis, Jenkins, who was working for Ryan, tried to pivot her duties to match and serve the needs of Ohioans while being concerned for her own well-being.
She also received countless calls regarding people who had been laid off from their jobs, and put in long days, Jenkins recalled.
Despite the difficulties and trying times associated with the pandemic, the most rewarding aspect of Jenkins’ position is feeling like she has made a positive impact for many hospitals. She also has worked diligently to make health care more affordable — a priority that hearkens back to her father’s struggles that included medical bills piling up, Jenkins said.
“Those experiences shaped my perspective early on,” she added.
Despite having graduated from Malone six years ago, she has not placed the private Christian university in the rearview mirror of her life: Jenkins served as alumni mentor for the 2021-22 Pendle Hill Mentorship Program. She also was honored during the university’s Homecoming Week.
It appears that Jenkins’ trajectory will have few additional curves, because she intends to continue advocating for policies that will assist people regarding health care needs and challenges, she said.
“I know my dad would be proud of the path I took,” Jenkins added.