- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
Over the summer, I worked in a research lab working on quality control of clinical trials. The specific clinical trials I worked on involved determining the volume of meningiomas and craniopharyngiomas, both types of brain tumors.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
This summer I was exposed to the world of medicine in a way that I never have been before. Having a role in the process of advancing human knowledge is a humbling, but exciting, experience. This summer confirmed to me that medicine is absolutely my calling. My desire to be a physician increased substantially, as I know that making a positive difference for others is the only way I will be fulfilled. On top of that, the intellectually stimulating nature of medicine was shown to me this summer. Having a career in medicine requires one to always be learning. With each year, new and exciting treatments are being introduced. Following those in whichever specialty I end up, is just another way I discovered that medicine is for me this summer.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
First and foremost, the most influential event, interaction, relationship, or activity this summer was the person with which I worked most directly: Connor Nealer. Connor truly took me underneath of his wing and helped explain to me the WHY behind the WHAT of our operation. Without him, the summer would not have been as inspirational and transformative. Connor explained to me what patients suffering from the different brain tumors would experience, the way the treatment works, and how the novel treatment could be better than prior treatments. Knowing that information helped make the work meaningful. Connor also took the time to invest in me and figure out why I wanted to go into medicine. His probing questions led me to truly think about why I wanted to be a physician.
Next, the act of contouring and then determining the volume of brain tumors is incredibly meticulous. Completing one scan for one patient can take up to seven hours. Most patients have at least four scans and there are over 100 patients in these trials. The sheer number of man hours needed is incredible. For most people, this would be miserable. However, I found the circumstances to be incredibly motivating. New knowledge is not easy to attain, and being a part of that process empowered me to work more efficiently and for longer hours than I would have otherwise.
Lastly, the craniopharyngioma trial I was working on was incredible. As I worked through different patients’ scans, I was able to see the progress that almost every single patient made. Seeing a tumor shrink over the course of a couple months is inspirational and makes you realize the power of what we are doing. If seeing a patient beat cancer before your eyes doesn’t move you, I don’t know what will. This experience specifically has ignited a fire and vigor inside of me for medicine that I did not have prior to this summer. When I went into the summer, I expected to enjoy what I was doing, but I didn’t expect to have my view of medicine changed the way that I did.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
This summer could not have been more valuable to my future if I tried. Besides the experience in a highly-regarded lab, I have a new appreciation and passion for medicine. I now plan on doing research in this lab during my gap year before going to medical school. I love the work and people at this lab, so being there full-time for a whole year is appealing. Additionally, I didn’t plan on doing research long term into my career before the summer. Now, I am seriously considering the idea because I have seen how beneficial it is to the patients. If I truly want what is best for my patients, partaking in research is the way to go.