IBD Scholarship Recipient Spotlight: Jack Kerr

Jack Kerr
Ahead of the 2019 AbbVie IBD Scholarship deadline, we’re catching up with our past recipients to learn about the cool initiatives they’re involved in around the Crohn’s and colitis community. 

Jack Kerr received the AbbVie IBD Scholarship in 2016, when he was completing his undergraduate degree in Life Sciences at Queen’s University. Now, he is pursuing a Doctor of Medicine at Memorial University. His interests include surgery, pediatrics, and gastroenterology.

What have you done or are currently doing with the Crohn’s and colitis community?
I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in the summer of 2014. In 2015, thanks to the recommendation of my gastroenterologist, I sent in my first application for the scholarship. It was through this initial process that I realized I had not done anything of substance with the community since getting diagnosed. The application acted as a springboard for my involvement with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

In my second year of university, I started volunteering with the Queen’s University Crohn’s and Colitis Committee as a Sponsorship Coordinator. I raised money for the Kingston Gutsy Walk and initiatives on campus. The next year, I was asked to be one of the Committee Co-Chairs. Although the position only had a one-year term, I was asked to come back for a second year, where I introduced new programs and began outreach into the greater Kingston community. Most notably, we ran events where youth in Kingston could meet other people facing similar challenges and bond over pizza and a movie.

My time with the Queen’s Crohn’s and Colitis Committee led me to become involved in the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Youth Engagement Program. I ran a Mental Health webinar with Dr. Sara Ahola Kohut, a psychologist at University of Toronto, as part of the Youth Education Series in 2017. In the summer, I volunteered (and eventually worked full-time) at Camp Brigadoon, the Eastern location of Camp Got2Go. In 2018, I became the Youth Engagement Lead in Kingston. Unfortunately, I had to move away for school afterward, so I could not continue in this role.

For my undergraduate thesis, I studied two therapeutic agents that could be used as potential treatment options for Crohn’s and colitis. It was so cool to get involved in different areas of IBD, like research and fundraising, and I loved meeting other people who shared my experiences. 

At the moment, I regrettably am not super involved. I moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland five months ago and started medical school, so I am still adjusting to the change. I have already put my name forward as a volunteer for the Gutsy Walk in June, and I plan to meet people and go from there!

How has receiving the AbbVie IBD Scholarship impacted your journey through school?
The biggest benefit of the scholarship was that it removed a stressor. I moved away from home to pursue my undergraduate degree, and have not lived at home full-time since. The change requires a huge adjustment: attending a new school, learning how to take care of yourself, paying for rent and utilities, and studying for exams are already stressful enough—throw in a chronic illness, and things really add up. 

Stress is well-known to be a potential trigger for people living with inflammatory bowel disease, so receiving the scholarship helped lift a weight off of my shoulders. It was nice knowing I could go to the grocery store and buy healthier foods. I also had a part-time job as a tour guide at Queen’s University, and the extra money meant that I didn’t feel pressured to work crazy hours. Receiving the scholarship meant that finances were one less thing I had to worry about for that year.

What advice do you have for students who are thinking of applying for the scholarship?
I encourage everyone to apply, regardless if you think you’re a strong candidate or not. 

The first time I applied, I got feedback saying I was a strong candidate—except for my community involvement. Upon self-reflection, I started to get more and more involved—and I realized I loved it. As you learn more and meet new people, you are able to help others. You can also see the impact you are making: something as simple as volunteering for an hour a week can make a big difference in the lives of those affected by the disease.

I had only begun to dip my toes into the water when I applied the second time around, so I was surprised when I received the scholarship! Applying for the scholarship and becoming a recipient opening up doors for my involvement in the Crohn’s and colitis community.

That’s why, even if you are not a traditional candidate, you should apply. Life is not a straight line—especially with a chronic illness—you’re going to take different paths to get where you are. You have nothing to lose, so you might as well throw your name in the hat!

To learn more about the AbbVie IBD Scholarship and submit your application, click here.

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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