Blackwell Medical Scholar Melissa Mahajan ’15 always knew she wanted to study medicine, and has spent the past four years at HWS advancing that goal. Before heading off to SUNY Upstate Medical University College of Medicine this coming fall, Mahajan ’15 is spending her senior year interning with general surgeon Dr. Kristin Baltazar-Ford at Finger Lakes Health, Geneva’s local hospital. Previously, Mahajan spent two summers piloting research alongside HWS assistant and associate professors of Chemistry Kristin Slade and Justin Miller. This past summer, she had the opportunity to experience biomedical research in a graduate setting at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
“In the summer between my first and sophomore years, I studied the synthesis of HDAC Inhibitor Spiruchostatin A under the direction of Professor Miller,” says Mahajan, a biology major with double minors in chemistry and health professions. Mahajan spent the following summer with Slade, researching macromolecular crowding and its effect on enzyme kinetics. Then, with the help of the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education and Health Professions Adviser Scott MacPhail, Mahajan secured a highly competitive internship at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, where she studied bacteria associated with preterm birth alongside Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Dr. Kim Jefferson.
“My HWS summer research experiences were fantastic opportunities, but I was eager to take my research in a different direction,” she says. “I worked in Dr. Jefferson’s lab studying the pathogenesis of amnionitis caused by Mycoplasma hominis,” she explains. “The relevance of this study in the broader context of medicine lies in preterm birth.” Preterm births, she says, are commonly caused by inflammation associated with microbial invasion of the amniotic cavity. Mahajan specifically studied a putative virulence factor in M. hominis amnionitis.
Mahajan says her laboratory internships at HWS and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, her medical work with Dr. Baltazar-Ford, and seeing her coursework at HWS brought to life in the clinic, have helped affirm her desire to practice medicine. “I am still inspired by the clinical work and patient interaction physicians engage in on a daily basis, but research has also shown me how to see medicine through another lens: one where innovation, discovery, and progress are all at work moving healthcare forward. I have known that I want to go into medicine for a long time, but after spending my college summers in laboratories doing research, it has been refreshing to get back into a clinical setting.”
While she still has much to see before deciding on a medical specialty, Mahajan says that she’s leaning toward surgery. “Each day is different (the beauty of medicine!), with some days full of office visits, some days spent in the OR, and some a mix of both,” she says. “I love being in the OR and am intrigued by the decisions and physical challenges surgeons face on a day-to-day basis.”
As a Blackwell Medical Scholar, Mahajan is guaranteed a seat in medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University College of Medicine at Syracuse after graduation from the Colleges, in addition to a full scholarship to HWS. To qualify for the Blackwell Medical Scholars program, applicants must be U.S. citizens, and be either from a rural background, an underrepresented minority or the first generation of his or her family to attend college. Applicants must also have minimum SAT scores of 1250 or an ACT Composite of 28, a high school grade point average of 90 or higher and demonstrate commitment to a career in medicine. They must also achieve a 30 or better on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to retain their reserved spot.
In addition to her research last summer, Mahajan studied for the MCAT and exceeded the required score.
“In the past year, I have learned so much about not only medicine but also about life as a physician and, more specifically, a surgeon. One of the most valuable parts has been the amount of attention that Dr. Baltazar-Ford has paid to teaching me-before, during, and after each case,” says Mahajan. “I am very lucky to be paired with a mentor who wants to teach me just as much as I want to learn. The depth of experience this opportunity has given me is a major benefit of attending a small school in a small town like Geneva.”
In the photo above, Melissa Mahajan ’15 is with general surgeon Dr. Kristin Baltazar-Ford at Finger Lakes Health.