St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Services in Camden, NJ
I had made a promise to God that if I got into medical school I
would work with the poor,” said Dr. Lesly D’Ambola, the medical
director of St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Services in Camden, New
Jersey, an assistant professor at Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine
and a JV in San Jose, California, in 1982. D’Ambola was accepted into
osteopathic school on her second round of applications.
“Be careful what you promise God,” she joked, while taking a break
from working on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
D’Ambola’s route to medicine was not direct. A psychology major at
St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, she chose JVC in part for the
offer of a placement working in the mental health field.
“I loved it there and I really grew in it,” she said. She stayed in San
Jose after her volunteer year to take medical school prerequisites, and
then moved to New Jersey to work with the homeless in Jersey City.
“When I got all these (med school) rejections the first time I didn’t
care,” she said. “I was too busy to care. I didn’t need to be a doctor to
take care of people and that was a really good insight to have. I felt
like I was really helping people and touching God to deal with people
on that basic level of shelter, food and clothes. I really felt God called
Management changed at the shelter, and D’Ambola lost her job.
“I was totally heartbroken,” she said. “I really think God had other
plans for me.” Following her lay off she went on a retreat at a
Franciscan retreat center in Upstate New York.
“I felt like I died and went to heaven on that mountain,” she said. “I
heard the Holy Spirit say ‘reapply to medical school and if you don’t
get in move on with your life.’”
On this round of applications, she was accepted at three osteopathic
At Camden’s St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Services, D’Ambola works
as a primary care physician with patients primarily from Puerto Rico,
Mexico and the Dominican Republic, focusing on spending time
with each patient to address his or her needs. It’s not a moneymaker,
she said, but a vocation she is called to every day. Many of the skills
she learned in JVC she uses daily, and her agency has been a JVC
placement for many years.
“Seeing God in all things, seeing God in our patients, seeing Jesus in
our patients, for me, that makes all the difference in the world,” she
said. “Am I saying I do it all the time? I try but I’m not perfect. I yell
at my patients, I get annoyed at my patients but seeing Jesus in our
patients makes all the difference.”