The difference may seem small – one letter versus three letters, recorded on an official transcript. But Gabriella Smith, a biochemistry graduate in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, knows how important shorthand is.
That’s why Smith, an aspiring medical researcher, advocated for change that would provide relief to his classmates who were making the difficult choice to withdraw from their studies for physical or mental health reasons.
Smith helped usher in a movement to reclassify dropouts by allowing separate grading for different types of “breaks” in a typical college program. Instead of having only the W option for “withdrawal”, a new notation has been introduced: WLA for “Withdrawal Leave of Absence”.
“As a student body, we wanted to support students who already admit they are struggling and are already looking for resources, so they don’t have to worry about their academic future or coming to a point where they feel like choosing between preserving their transcript and preserving their sanity,” Smith said. Student life in September 2019.
At that time, no one could have imagined the challenges we would all soon face related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also the year Smith helped secure five years of funding for the Student Union Mental Health Fundwhich provides financial assistance to low-income students seeking mental health services.
“I believe all students should be able to seek mental services, find a counselor that’s right for them, and get all the treatment and testing they need, regardless of socioeconomic status,” said Smith, who has been to multiple times senator, health and welfare committee chair and student union senate president from 2018-2021. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of barriers to care right now.”
Smith is already doing his part to dismantle some of these barriers. She is expected to graduate in May, earning an honors bachelor’s degree in biology, including a concentration in molecular biology and biochemistry, as well as a minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, all from the arts and sciences. science. Smith hopes to combine her passion for working with children with her leadership skills to pursue a career in medicine that integrates patient care, research and advocacy.
“I am passionate about working with children because I am interested in supporting pediatric health holistically, integrating psychosocial and physical health to ensure the highest quality of care for my future patients,” she said. . “I’m also interested in navigating the unique dynamic between my patients and their family members who are involved in the care-seeking process.”
After graduation, Smith accepted a position as a clinical research coordinator at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicagowork with Leena K. Mithal, MD, in the Division of Infectious Diseases. Smith plans to apply to medical school in the 2022-2023 cycle.
She was a research assistant in the laboratory of Kory Lavine, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine in the School of Medicine. As part of the Lavine lab, Smith pursued a research project and honors thesis as part of a team working to identify new treatments that reverse the causes of heart failure and improve the heart’s ability to repair itself. In addition to this research, Smith has also worked as a Senior Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research Associate at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, helping to identify, approach and enroll eligible patients for seven clinical research studies and even design studies. of clinical research.
“I’m interested in how laboratory research can be applied to develop therapies for patients in the clinic, and also how the experiences of patients in the clinic can shape the goals and questions we ask in the lab,” Smith said. “My lab experience confirmed to me that it is important to understand both.
She participated in the Journey of biotech explorers at the University of Washington, directed by Joseph Jez, Professor Spencer T. Olin of Biology in Arts and Sciences, who said Smith was among his best students at WashU. Smith also served as 2021-22 Student Representative Board of Directors.
Smith, a native of Newton, Mass., is the oldest of four children. Growing up, Smith admired her father’s commitment to patients in his dermatology practice. This experience also inspired her to pursue a career in medicine, but with a specialty in pediatrics.
“Physicians can be valuable resources for children and teens as they experience changes in their family dynamics,” Smith said. “They can facilitate conversations between the patient and their family.
“It’s unique to pediatric medicine,” she said. “You have to consider your patient, but you also have to understand the family support system.
“A family can come in different ways, but what’s important is making sure you’re communicating effectively with everyone involved,” Smith said. “I am thrilled to face these unique circumstances and hopefully connect with patients and families. »