Medical student awarded prestigious award from American Association for Thoracic Surgery
By Annika Dahlgren, email@example.com
Second-year medical student Alison “Allie” Augsburger has wanted to be a doctor for as long as she can remember, but working with her mentor and completing a prestigious summer program has helped narrow her sights on the rigorous field of cardiothoracic surgery.
Last spring, Augsburger became the first student from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine to receive the prestigious Summer Intern Scholarship in Cardiothoracic Surgery from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).
After digging through information online about summer programs, Augsburger found the internship, but needed a letter of support from an association member to apply.
She found that member in associate dean for research and graduate education Frank Spinale and asked him to be her mentor.
“Cardiothoracic surgery is a very competitive and demanding field. A student has to be willing to make sacrifices to succeed in this specialty,” Spinale says. “Allie is a student who has a lot of grit. I know she has the potential to excel in whatever she sets her mind.”
Augsburger completed the eight-week internship, which consisted of extensive research and a clinical shadowing experience, this summer. Most of her time was dedicated to research in Spinale’s lab, but she also spent time shadowing Reid Tribble, a cardiothoracic surgeon in the Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group.
“It’s been a great experience to learn how to balance research that has no patient interaction with being actively involved in patient care,” Augsburger says. “Having the opportunity to see patients in the cardiac intensive care unit is great exposure so that I am able to learn how things go.”
The research component of Augsburger’s internship focused on developing therapeutics to combat the damage a heart attack does to the heart. Augsburger and Spinale are working with an injectable biomaterial that is inserted into the heart though a needle. The material then reforms and is a localized biocomposite in the heart itself.
“After a heart attack, a lot of heart tissue dies and thins, which can cause a lot of adverse heart effects. The injection will help thicken the tissue and bulk it up,” says Augsburger. “It’s really cool to be able to see it all come full circle and connect. I’ll be working in the hospital one day and see patients and know that our research could really help them.”
In addition to research and shadowing at Palmetto Health, Augsburger also flew to Boston for two days to shadow Massachusetts General Hospital’s chief of cardiac surgery Jennifer Walker in July. Walker, originally from South Carolina, also was mentored by Spinale when she was a student.
It’s been a great experience to learn how to balance research that has no patient interaction with being actively involved in patient care. Having the opportunity to see patients in the cardiac intensive care unit is great exposure so that I am able to learn how things go.
Allie Augsburger, School of Medicine, Class of 2021
Walker was the first recipient of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery's Nina Braunwald Fellowship, a two-year scholarship for promising female surgery residents interested in pursuing cardiac surgery.
“It’s no secret that the cardiothoracic field is male-dominated, but the AATS is actively trying to resolve this issue by offering scholarships for women and other underrepresented individuals in the field,” says Spinale. “Allie and Jennifer are both amazing. So it was exciting to connect them and give Allie a female role model in the field.”
Now that Augsburger has completed her internship, she says she hopes to continue working with Spinale and pursuing research. She plans to submit an abstract based on her summer research to the thoracic surgery association that she hopes to present at the organization’s annual meeting in May 2019. She also will be presenting her research at Discover USC next spring.
“I’ve always tried to say that I’m not focusing on only one path and that I’m going to learn to be the best doctor possible,” says Augsburger. “Yet I truly enjoy cardiothoracic surgery. This summer internship has been an incredible learning opportunity for me, and I can’t wait to take the next step in my medical career.”
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