Why did you decide to go into medicine?
My drive crystallized after suffering severe spinal trauma in a skiing accident in 2010. Shattered bone fragments punctured my spinal canal, resulting in a lack of feeling and movement from the waist down. After 13 hours of reconstructive surgery, I could wiggle my left foot for the first time since the accident. It was an incredible moment. I was given a new direction in life.
My subsequent care as I recovered exposed me to the complexity of health care systems and formed my interest in the delivery of health care. While shadowing physicians, I have seen how approaching a problem from multiple viewpoints is a critical skill. This is something my background in environmental studies has instilled in me: thinking systematically about complex problems.
How did your interest in environmental studies develop?
My concerns about the environment and sustainability began in high school, when I started a group that led to a statewide award from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. After I graduated, I was encouraged to see students from the group finish a project that raised $170,000 to put solar panels on Rochester’s four high schools.
The dynamic interactions between human and natural systems fascinate me. In my coursework at USC, I learned how changes in one system impact various others. Learning about pollution and food production related to public health clarified my interest in the medical field.
Talk about your undergraduate Problems Without Passports (PWP) overseas trip.
The PWP program in Belize was among the most gratifying experiences in my life. We were studying the collapse of societies using ancient Maya as a case study. We lived in traditional thatched-roof bungalows, ate local cuisine and toured organic farms. We also taught at schools in the Belizean jungle.
Through anthropological and archaeological analyses, I learned about the current natural preservation and conservation efforts in Belize. I learned that it is possible for a population to outgrow the capacity of an area, even with advanced technology, and that sociopolitical establishments can quickly fall apart when food scarcity and climatic crisis occur.
If you could cure any medical malady, which would it be?
Curing people of debilitating neurological/neuropathic pain and suffering. Given my personal experience, I have real empathy for this type of suffering and hope to develop surgical and regenerative medicine therapeutics in this area.