Bon Voyage, with a Purpose

Bridget Harrison took travel seriously, embracing each experience boldly and fearlessly, with a little fun mixed in. 

The University of Kansas School of Medicine alumna and Wichita, Kan., native went to Paraguay while she was a medical student. Harrison, fluent in Spanish, teased Jenny, a fellow medical student upon arrival: “No more English from now on.” 

Harrison, an accomplished hand surgeon, died in 2018 at age 34. Her parents, Paul and Carolyn Harrison, of Wichita, used Bridget’s estate to establish an international education support fund for medical students to gain experiences in other countries. 

“She was always excited about her trips, particularly those that were part of her education,” Paul Harrison said. “We wanted to set up a lasting memorial to her life with something that was such a part of her life and could connect in a positive way to others.”

Bridget Harrison started traveling in high school with a trip to Spain, and after that, there was no stopping her. She earned undergraduate degrees in biology and Spanish and returned to Spain to further her studies. She also traveled to Russia by train and to Istanbul, Turkey, by herself. 

“This might have given most young single women an uncomfortable feeling,” Paul said. “But she liked seeing different places and cultures.”

Shayla McElyea, a graduate of KU School of Medicine-Wichita doing her residency in family medicine in Ogden, Utah, went to New Zealand thanks to the Harrison fund. She spent a month at Auckland City Hospital studying dermatology, where she experienced New Zealand’s unique mix of cultures as well as socialized medicine. 

ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT: Bridget Harrison had a passion for exploring new places and real-world learning. The memorial Bridget L. Harrison, M.D. International Education Support fund celebrates her life by helping medical students embark on their own journeys.Contributed by Paul and Carolyn Harrison

“New Zealand is very expensive — not just to travel there, but to live,” McElyea said. “It was important to me to have assistance, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to make it feasible financially.”

For Bridget Harrison, travel added a layer of enlightenment to her medical education, and Carolyn Harrison said it was why she and Paul decided to set up the fund. 

“Many medical students today don’t have much,” Carolyn said. “Bridget was a penny pincher, but she made sure she had money for her next trip. This is her way of going on that next trip.”

MICHELLE STRICKLAND