Jenny Noyes ’23 Overcomes Crohn’s Disease and Sets the Stage for a Career as a Physician Assistant

Jenny Noyes ’23 Overcomes Crohn’s Disease and Sets the Stage for a Career as a Physician Assistant

Academics, Research, Sciences, Testimonials

May 11, 2023

Jenny Noyes ’23 Overcomes Crohn’s Disease and Sets the Stage for a Career as a Physician Assistant Jennifer Noyes

When planning for college, Jenny Noyes ’23 knew that she wanted to study something related to biology for a possible career in healthcare. One of the main factors that convinced her Hollins University was the right place to do that was sitting in on Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael’s microbiology class.

“It was excellent,” she says. “I was ecstatic because along with touring campus and meeting students, it really helped me to make up my mind about coming here.”

Fittingly, the double major in biology and environmental studies (ES) is taking that very same microbiology class during her final semester at Hollins as she looks forward to one day becoming a physician assistant (PA), a licensed clinician who practices medicine in a wide range of specialties and settings.

“The bio and ES faculty are wonderful and supportive,” she says. “Anyone I’ve taken classes with has really given me guidance, and I’ve been lucky to have research opportunities.”

One of those projects involved studying the demographics of the feral cat population on campus. “I emailed Meg du Bray (an assistant professor of environmental studies at Hollins from 2020 to 2022) this hare-brained scheme over Winter Break,” Noyes relates, laughing. “I said, ‘I want to study this!’ and Meg said, ‘Okay!’ She was certainly a mentor to me and continues to be a friend.”

Last year, Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette and Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Elizabeth Gleim ’06 recommended Noyes and helped her apply for an internship with the Virginia Tech Summer Undergraduate Research Program. “I studied tapeworms and tapeworm loads in wild canid species such as foxes and coyotes. It’s not something everyone wants to talk about, but it’s a particularly nasty variety of tapeworm called Echinococcus multilocularis. Fortunately, it’s very rare, but I did find it in Virginia.”

Noyes worked with Roger Ramirez-Barrios, DVM, at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “Dr. Ramirez-Barrios was a wonderful mentor. I had so much autonomy working in the lab there and it was a great experience,” she says. “I owe Professor Chenette for helping me find that internship. She really encouraged me to do it.”

The senior has also found fulfillment beyond the classroom and lab. She’s been involved with the Hollins Outdoor Program as a trip leader and captain of the rock climbing team since her sophomore year. “That’s been a cool experience and one I didn’t necessarily expect when I first came here.” She has also served as a resident assistant (RA) since she was a sophomore, and this year is a Hollins lead RA. “Both of my parents were RAs, it’s how they met, so it was something I was definitely considering doing in college.”

For Noyes, working as an RA not only has provided new opportunities to meet other students (“You have a hall of 20 residents two years in a row, that’s 40 more people who are friends”), it’s also given her a unique perspective on successful interpersonal relations. “When I was a sophomore I had a few seniors on my hall, and I learned that I didn’t necessarily have to be the expert on everything. Part of leadership is knowing when to delegate and how to be respectful to those who have more experience than you in a certain area. It’s okay to be the loudest voice sometimes, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.”

Noyes’ philosophy as an RA, she says, is to be more of a coordinator than anyone’s boss, working together with people rather than telling them what to do. “That’s given me a sense of confidence and self-assurance that I didn’t have when I entered Hollins.”

Enjoying an active and accomplished undergraduate career is a source of pride for Noyes, especially in the face of a major personal challenge. At age 16, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract where the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and damage. “I had to take a leave of absence in my first semester at Hollins because of liver complications from the medication I was taking,” she recalls. “I was really sick, and I was very lucky to have supportive professors.”

Fortunately, Noyes is now healthy and in remission. Still, “it’s a lifelong illness and I have to take immunosuppressant therapy. Every eight weeks I go to the hospital for an infusion of the drug Entyvio, which has been found to be very effective in treating Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. I’m grateful for the medication and I’m doing very well now.”

Noyes’ focus at the moment is on building her qualifications to gain acceptance into a PA program. “I have all the coursework I need done at the undergraduate level. But depending on the school I choose, I will have to complete anywhere from 500 to 2,000 hours of patient contact hours (patient care experience) to meet the typical program requirements.”

To that end, Noyes recently passed the national registry exam to become an emergency medical technician (EMT) and plans to work in that field for the next year before applying to PA programs, possibly in obstetrics and gynecology. The process was demanding: Last fall as she was taking 18 credit hours at Hollins, Noyes was also enrolled in a rigorous three-month hybrid certification course that combined ongoing online textbook learning with in-person skills training one weekend a month in Blacksburg, generally running from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturdays and Sundays. “Those weekends driving back and forth from Blacksburg were rough,” she admits.

Noyes says she will be applying for jobs soon to serve as an EMT in the Roanoke area, and she’s “looking forward to having a little less school for a while.” At the same time, she’s eagerly anticipating launching her PA career. “Most PA programs are three years, and you sort of graduate as a third-year medical student,” Noyes explains. “You essentially are an intermediate medical provider, which is appealing to me. I’m really excited to get right into the field and start working.”