Some people might feel that being the oldest of five girls would be a burden. That’s not the case, however, with Leah Barnett. She says that, as a result of her family, she’s always known she loves kids. In fact, her family dynamics influenced her career choice — medicine.
In high school, Leah says she loved all of her science classes and figured that medical school would be a good option that “combines my passions.” Her next step being college, Leah chose Texas A&M in part because the people were friendly, and she enjoyed the traditions.
Reflecting on her favorite memories at A&M, Leah includes “Howdy,” 12th Man, midnight yell, and the infamous ring dunk. She lived in downtown Bryan, and that became a favorite place. She loved the coffee shops, tacos, and live music on First Fridays. Leah says that the friends she made during those years were from all over the world, and the kids she hung out with at the boys’ and girls’ clubs came from such different lives than her own that it was interesting to hear their stories.
Nevertheless, as with most kids who come from small towns and hit the big college campus, her first year was both a culture shock and a major challenge. She admits that the biology classes were “no joke,” but once she got to know the professors and assistants, she learned “how to learn.”
Along the way, Leah got very involved with the Pre-Medical Society and pursued leadership within that organization. She regularly visited with her advisors, and one of them told her about the Joint Admissions Medical Program (JAMP), a program for underprivileged students, one which encompassed summer internships at medical schools, MCAT prep classes, shadowing experiences, scholarships, and guaranteed admission to a Texas medical school. As a first-generation college student, Leah qualified. And, after a very lengthy application process, she was accepted!
Excited to have begun the path toward medical school, Leah was also delighted to match her first choice in San Antonio and to be near her family again. Needless to say, she found medical school to be a struggle and a sacrifice, yet rewarding. And, throughout it, she discovered that pediatrics would be her specialty.
The next step was to go through the match process again, and that took Leah to Houston for her residency. As a young, single woman who loves to explore, she found Houston to be the perfect place. Now in her second year of residency, Leah explains that during their training, “It is very easy to be consumed and to live in our own bubble.” She, along with the others, work over 80 hours a week in 28-hour shifts. They switch teams, patients, hospitals, and EMRs every month. “So, we really have to adapt,” she adds.
“We sacrifice the entirety of our 20s studying and working,” Leah says. “So, it is very important to love those you work with (my amazing co-residents and my patients, who are kids), to have purpose, to be strong mentally, and to maintain some sort of balance.” Leah finds that balance in such simple things as coffee, running, lifting, dancing, music, exploring the city by foot and bike, and taking advantage of finding all sorts of foods. Leah also uses her vacation opportunities to greatest advantage. She is currently on a solo trip to New York, “the ultimate adventure!”
As for her personal life, Leah says that she has had her share of relationships — LOL — but that currently she is, “quite content and happy being single, evolving and growing.” She believes that everyone needs an opportunity to discover himself or herself and that some never get that opportunity.
Leah affirms that, despite being in the most demanding year of her residency and preparing to apply for a neonatology fellowship, “I am the happiest and most mentally strong I think I’ve ever been. I’m living life and loving it.” She adds that she has learned so much from her family over the years, realizing that her parents always made sacrifices to teach the value of family. Her mother, she says, was the extroverted and creative one who taught her to love Jesus and took her to church on Sundays. She adds that her dad is “the smart one who sits back and observes the room before taking action,” and that he is the most resourceful and humble man she knows. Finally, she attributes her personal work ethic to that of her parents.
Because family is so important to Leah, she tauts the attributes of her sisters. Sarah is the second sister and make a wonderful, loving mother to her son, Jackson. Alli is the third sister and works as a nurse, caring for the elderly. “Alli’s compassion goes beyond the requirements of her job.” Stephanie is the “free spirit who inspires me every day to live in the moment.” Hilary is the baby of the family and has the biggest heart, Leah says, and “is a little mini me…I see myself in her and know she’s going places.”
Currently, Leah attends Houston’s First Baptist Church and is involved with a small group there. She hopes to get more involved with the children’s ministry once she has a stable, consistent schedule. And, as for her travels, she does it as often as she can and with whomever will go along for the adventure.
While traveling, Leah loves to explore the cities on foot or by bike and to try new restaurants and coffee shops. She loves to explore bodies of water and to meet new people and hear their stories. Her favorite places so far include Europe, New York City, Portland/Seattle, Charleston, and Miami. She is considering moving to one of these places for her neonatology fellowship.
What Leah loves most about her life is her sense of balance and purpose and the ability to find joy in every day. Even on stressful days when she works 14 long hours, she still leaves knowing she has made an impact and a difference in someone’s life. She adds that on most days out of the week, she goes to the gym for a run or to see a friend.
Leah’s sense of stability is revealed in the simple joys she finds from life: her morning coffee, lunch time, conversations with co-residents, and catching a glimpse of the sunset from the hospital stairwell.