Practicing Passion

For surgeon Jacquelynn Arbuckle, practicing medicine is all about healing the sick ... and then some


Just six weeks after graduating from high school, Jacquelynn Arbuckle moved to Madison with the sole intention of becoming a doctor. Thanks to her high grades,  outstanding SAT scores and an impressive list of extracurricular activities, she began an advanced program at the University of Wisconsin called Med Scholars, in which she tracked for an eight-year degree that combined her undergraduate and medical education in working toward a career as a general surgeon.

Raised on the St. Croix Reservation near Superior, Wisconsin, Dr. Arbuckle draws on her heritage as a member of the Ojibwe Nation to inform an esteemed medical practice that now spans almost twenty years. As an instructor at the UW Medical School, as well as a surgeon at UW Health, Arbuckle encourages young medical students to achieve their highest potential. Working with other Native American doctors, she strives to create an environment where scholars with similar backgrounds are made to feel welcome in a community with the shared purpose of healing the sick.

“But as we go forward, I would really like to reach out to younger and younger students because if you’re not anticipating wanting to go to medical school, it’s really hard to get there,” Arbuckle says. “You have to take the right undergraduate classes. You have to be on the right track and have a good mentor. Without the right guidance to get into medical school, it’s going to be a significant challenge to [do so].”

Arbuckle was inspired by the dedicated physicians who cared for her younger brother, who was born with cystic fibrosis. It gave her an exceptionally high standard of patient service that evokes the utmost confidence in her patients and their families.

“I want to help others in the best way possible, to make someone else’s life easier,” she says. “When you’re at that vulnerable stage when you feel like you’re frightened about life and death issues, I want to be the person who takes your hand and says, ‘I’ll take care of you.’”

Infinitely compassionate, Arbuckle considers her role as a surgeon to be a privilege. Literally holding patients’ lives in her hands, she recognizes that she plays an integral part in the health of not only individuals, but the Madison community as a whole.

“Growing up the way that I did and [with] the background that I have, I feel that we are all part of the Great Spirit, and we’re all equal and we’re all part of the brotherhood of man,” she says. “I think it’s important to treat each other with respect, regardless of where we come from. That set the baseline for what I expect from other people as well.”

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