The star of TLC Network’s, “The Little Couple,” Dr. Jennifer Arnold, was the keynote speaker for East Carolina University’s 2018 North Carolina Civility summit on Saturday, Feb. 17. She encouraged students to adopt her personal motto, “think big,” to achieve life’s goals.
The purpose of the Civility Summit is to create constructive dialogue to find solutions to address real-world challenges and face significant societal issues. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in sessions to discuss topics that included Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and climate change.
Born with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, which results in short stature and skeletal abnormalities, Arnold endured 30 surgeries as a child. Those experiences in the hospital and the influence of her childhood surgeon led her to dream of one day becoming a physician.
“I wanted to give back to other kids so they could have a healthy, happy life,” said Arnold.
She is now a physician and was named director of the Simulation Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in 2017. She was previously the director of the Simulation Center at Texas Children’s Hospital. During her conversation with students in Mendenhall Student Center, Arnold discussed the difficulty she faced when applying to medical school because people couldn’t see beyond her disability to notice her abilities.
According to Arnold, she attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University because it was the only program she encountered where the instructors did not doubt what she could do based on her size.
She pointed out the importance of the profession being more inclusive for people with disabilities and that .02 percent of people who graduate from medical school have a disability. She hopes to raise awareness for more inclusion in the medical profession. She knew becoming a trauma surgeon was unlikely due to her size. She joked that she chose her field, neonatology, because the patients were always smaller than her.
“It is possible to become a doctor but we have to focus on areas that promotes our strengths,” said Arnold. “My small hands made it easier for me to do some of the procedures,” she said.
“The Little Couple” follows Arnold, her husband and two children as they navigate life as little people in a world designed for people of average size. The show has been on for 10 seasons and has captured the couple’s early years of marriage and now, their most recent adventure in becoming parents and Arnold’s successful battle with cancer.
“When a great opportunity comes your way – even though it may be scary or hard – sometimes you have to try for it,” said Arnold.
The Civility Summit was open to ECU community members and included a closing session with Arnold to wrap up the day’s discussions.
“It was great; I loved it; super inspirational. I want to go to med school too,” said ECU senior Cristina Derespinis of Arnold’s presentation. “Events like this are important for awareness of things that are going on in our community and around the world. With the diverse people in our world, it’s important to get information from different perspectives,” she said.
Jon Cockerham, a junior studying political science and communications, is a committee member for the 2018 event. He said the Civility Summit allows students to exercise having civil dialogue around controversial topics with people who have differing views.
“What we’re seeing more of now is toxic dialogue, with people yelling at each other instead of sitting and listening to what the other person is saying and actually hearing them,” said Cockerham. “So, today is all about having that civil dialogue where you may disagree with the person but you’re still talking about the issue.”
-by Jamie Smith, ECU News Services