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Inspired by grandfather, Elke Schipani pursuing neurology

Fourth-year medical student reflects on experiential learning

Elke Schipani grew up caring for her grandfather, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when she was 6. Her mother would spend long hours in his home, bringing young Schipani along to help.

“It had a big impact on what I ended up wanting to do with my life,” she said. “Many days after school, we would go over to his house and take him out for errands or pick him up from adult activities. Through high school, I really loved the sciences and experimentation. I ended up deciding that I wanted to study what happened to my grandfather, so I majored in neuroscience.”

In 2016, the Winchester native earned a bachelor’s degree in cellular neuroscience & behavior from Barnard College, Columbia University in New York. Attending an all-women’s college gave Schipani the opportunity to see medicine and science through the lens of women’s health and advocacy.

“Coming to UMass Medical School, I transitioned to leading both the OB/GYN Interest Group, the Infectious Disease Interest Group and Medical Students for Choice,” she said. “I tried to shadow as much as possible, which was an incredible experience, just in an effort to expand my horizons and see what’s out there for medicine.”

Schipani is enrolled in the Clinical and Translational Research Pathway, a program for School of Medicine students to use epidemiological, physiological and molecular tools to identify disease causality and make discoveries in patient care and population health.

One project she has worked on analyzes the attitudes and behavior of obstetric providers and their ability to diagnose and treat perinatal depression. Another looks at muscle wasting in lung cancer patients through their treatment course.

“I’m working on a stroke imaging study right now as well. It focuses on patients who have come through UMass Memorial Medical Center in the last several years as part of a stroke activation. All of these research experiences really shaped the type of physician I’ll become. It’s important that I’m incorporating clinical research into my practice and making sure I’m making evidence-based decisions.”

As she looks forward to graduating this spring and is applying in neurology residency programs, Schipani is reflecting on her education alongside her faculty, peers and colleagues. The hands-on practice she was able to take part in made a lasting impact.

She hopes to incorporate teaching in her career and one day make that same impression on curious students exploring their potentials.

“I see myself in the hospital with medical students, helping them through their clerkships and walking them through a neurologic exam. You realize that by teaching someone else, you understand concepts in a different way,” she said.

In between her leadership activities, clinical rotations and academics, Schipani values the lessons she learned working with patients.

“The learning you have is experiential,” she said. “You internalize it. Whenever you think of a disease process that you’ve learned or a treatment course you have somebody associated with, and that makes the learning so much deeper. This has been going on since I was 6 years old, and now, 20 years later, I got to actually see that happen. That’s really exciting, especially when it turns out to be more than you could have hoped for.”

The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

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