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Alum's medical success born of ASU experience, community service

By

Margaret Coulombe

A passion for family medicine, kindled by undergraduate studies in the School of Life Sciences and service as a Spanish translator, created a journey toward success for ASU alumna Sarah Louie Lusk. Lusk recently received the David E. Rogers Award for Community Service along with her medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and was accepted into a medical residency with University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of Family Medicine – thanks in large part to early mentorship at ASU.

Lusk’s journey from Tempe, Ariz. to Baltimore, Md., to Los Angeles started when she was a 2006 Barrett Honors College undergraduate majoring in biology with a concentration in biology and society. In addition to her coursework, Lusk volunteered as a Spanish interpreter in the Centro de Salud Health Clinic, which serves uninsured Latino patients in Phoenix, Ariz. There, Lusk became interested in how the language used by health care providers, English or Spanish, impacts the experience and health care decision-making of the clinic's Spanish-speaking patients. She became so interested in this question that she decided to develop her Honors Thesis "Health promotion and disease prevention in Nuestro Barrio" around extensive interviews of patients at the clinic, with support from her advisor Jane Maienschein, a Regents’, President’s and Parents Association Professor in the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
 
Lusk’s work with Maienschein led to the award of a travel grant through the Barrett Honors College and the Center for Biology and Society. Such support allowed Lusk and other honors college and School of Life Sciences’ undergraduates to go to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2006. This experience, Lusk says, helped her appreciate scientific conferences and how scientific information is communicated in a public setting.

"I presented the findings of my interviews at Centro de Salud and it was an amazing opportunity, not only to share my work, but also to see what other students and researchers with similar interests were investigating," Lusk said. "Dr. Maienschein really allowed me to pursue my passion and gave me the tools to present what I had learned on a national stage. It taught me the value of dialogue in the scientific, ethics and now medical community of which I am a part."

While interested in medicine since elementary school, Lusk's early experience in the clinic between her sophomore and junior undergraduate years and mentorship in her studies solidified her desire to learn and practice family medicine in an underserved community. As her medical training unfolded at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, she continued to work as an interpreter in the school's Latino clinic in East Baltimore. In addition, she also served as a mentor for local area high school students.

While her recognition as a David E. Rogers Award winner – given to two graduating seniors in each Hopkins medical class for professionalism, medical ethics and community leadership – was a surprise to Lusk, it came as no surprise to those at ASU familiar with her experiences as an undergraduate.
     
Maienschein, who is also the director of the Center for Biology and Society in ASU's School of Life Sciences, remembers Lusk's interest in bioethics while at ASU. "She was a leader and part of the group that established the Bioethics Club, which in turn led to the development of other programs at the center. These included the Bioethics Films Series and the Western Regional Bioethics Conference,” Maienschein said. “The conference was wildly popular and brought students from all over the West to ASU. In fact all six of the organizers have gone on to be community leaders, like Sarah."

“I couldn't have been more proud,” said Pam Lusk, Sarah’s mother. “I can't think of a more meaningful recognition than for medical ethics, professionalism and leadership in the community. Sarah certainly was a stand out in a very, very talented class of medical students. Also a very fitting award for an ASU biology and society major, don't you think?”
 
This fall, Lusk started her medical residency in the department of family medicine at UCLA, where she has begun working in the county clinic. After her residency, she hopes to continue to provide medical care for underserved patient populations and help develop a community model where each community defines its own medical needs.

“I had an amazing time at ASU and am thankful for its role in finding and helping me develop my passion for family medicine,” Lusk said. Undoubtedly, this award-winning physician, one of the many successful alumni from the School of Life Sciences, has a great future ahead, built on access to an excellent foundation, both in experience and individualized support.

Written by Dan Garry