In this series, we're reconnecting with Novogratz Bridge Year alums to see where life has taken them after Princeton. For this installment, we reached out to Kenny Hubbell ‘16. In 2011-12, Kenny traveled with his Bridge Year group to Urubamba, Peru, where he primarily collaborated on a ceramic water filter project with ProPeru, an organization that focuses on community development concerns in the Sacred Valley region. Kenny also provided administrative support at a local medical clinic and participated in the construction of a community playground.
Matt Lynn (ML): Hey Kenny! Thanks for chatting with me today. What are you up to these days?
Kenny Hubbell (KH): Hey Matt, it is nice to meet you! I’m in my fourth year of medical school at Columbia University in New York City.
ML: Congratulations! Tell me about what made you decide to study and practice medicine.
KH: Well, at Princeton, I was a Chemical and Biological Engineering major. I also got a certificate in Global Health Policy. I was a real chemistry and STEM kind of guy going into my first year, and remained that at Princeton, but I think Bridge Year, in many ways, inflected my undergraduate studies toward global health and health applications of science and technology. That ultimately took me to a job working at Merck in their vaccines division for a few years.
Now, I’m in my fourth year of medical school at Columbia University in New York City. At Columbia, I’m part of a program called the Columbia-Bassett Program, which sends a cohort of ten people every year to do their clinical training in a hospital in rural, upstate New York. The track is oriented toward education in systems and quality improvement in healthcare.
There is a big movement within healthcare that was actually born from the world of engineering, which has been concerned with quality improvement to eliminate errors. The Columbia-Basset Program is interested in giving people more training in how to identify and address system-level problems in healthcare. As part of the program, I was in Cooperstown, New York, for a year and now I am back in Manhattan for the final part of my clinical training before I go into my residency.
ML: Wonderful, it sounds like you’re in a really interesting and rewarding medical school track. In what ways do you think Bridge Year has informed your path?
KH: Bridge Year left its fingerprints all over my psyche and values, and left me with a lot of practical skills too. Most days when I am here in the hospital, I use my Spanish to one degree or another, and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish before going to Peru.
Moreover, I think Bridge Year taught me a certain degree of comfort with pursuing projects in the real world, where details are often messy, things don’t work out, deadlines get missed, and there isn’t always a clear action plan. There is something different about the academic setting—even long-term group projects in school look very different from projects in the real world. Going to Peru and working on a project to build a playground, I learned a lot of skills that translated pretty directly into my brief career as an engineer, and now in medicine. Some of those skills include how to design a project from the very start and how to roll with the punches when things don’t go as planned.
From a values standpoint, Bridge Year definitely inflected me more toward the world of public health. I left high school as someone really interested in science and technology, but without much vision for how those fields can be applied to improve peoples’ lives.
Our work on the ceramic filters project with ProPeru involved producing filters and distributing them in rural communities outside of Urubamba. We would embed fine particulate, organic material into clay so that when it is fired, a micro-network of pores is created for water to seep through and, in that way, it is filtered. I think that is a cool technology, and intellectually this idea really stimulated me. However, it is something entirely different when you get to walk around and talk to people who are impacted by this type of technology.
In Peru, I saw the value and meaning of working with people every day. Now I get that from the interaction with my patients. While I still love to think about the details of pharmacology and physiology, the really rich and rewarding part of what I am doing is just sitting down with a patient and talking about their lives, their concerns, and their health.
ML: Thanks for sharing these insights. In the vein of human connection and relationships, what are the primary ways you stay engaged in community concerns today?
KH: In addition to the things I do for school, I work at a student-run free clinic in midtown Manhattan called Q-clinic. It operates through Columbia, is run by medical students, and provides free primary care services for members of the LGBTQI community, especially those who are underserved, underinsured, or resource and housing insecure.
I have been involved with Q-clinic all four years of medical school. In my third and fourth years, I’ve had the chance to be involved in more of a supervisory role, helping the first and second year students draw-up patient histories and create care plans. It feels special to serve a population that has so often been misunderstood by the healthcare system. One of my aims is to always go into every encounter with a learner’s mindset, and working at Q-clinic has allowed me to learn about how to better serve the LGBTQI population.
ML: I’m so glad to know this clinic exists and that you’ve found meaningful work there. What are some of your main takeaways and words of wisdom you have to share with students that are interested in applying to Bridge Year?
KH: On Bridge Year, I was able to extend beyond what I found intellectually stimulating, toward what I found emotionally fulfilling. It was a year during which I explored what a rich, fulfilling life and career could look like for me.
These were hard questions for me to explore in high school and college because I was so busy, and there were all of these external rewards that I was chasing such as grades, test scores, and applications. I didn’t have a lot of time to pause and ask myself- ‘What does a good life look like for me? What elements does it involve?’ On Bridge Year, it involved talking to people about their lives and their stories, sitting for a long lunch with my host family, and hiking in the Andes. I think having a year to pause and reflect on those questions was extremely valuable.