SPECIAL HONORS: Teen Volunteer
This article is a sneak peek from our 2017 Top Docs issue, on newsstands now.
Emma Gay, a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School (Photo by Jay Paul)
When Drs. Tammy Spring and Andrew Poklepovic describe the commitment of Emma Gay, you would think they were lavishing praise on a medical resident, not a high school student.
Emma, a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, works with the two physicians through the school’s career development program.
“She has demonstrated amazing work ethic and motivation,” says Spring, a rheumatologist at Premier HealthCare Associates. Emma often stays until the last patient of the day has been seen, well past the official 5 p.m. office closing time. “She truly enjoys what she is doing and learning,” Spring adds.
Emma’s interest in medicine, particularly in cancer research and oncology, started two years ago. As a sophomore, she took a genetics class and became fascinated. “I found it so interesting that the genes that make you who you are can also mutate and kill you,” she says.
Maggie Walker’s career development program allowed Emma to designate a career field, choose mentors and begin learning. A simple degree of separation made it possible: Her mother works with Spring, who is married to Poklepovic, an oncologist and hematologist.
Now, Emma accompanies Poklepovic on rounds at VCU Medical Center, where she gets to listen to patients and work in the genetics laboratory.
“Emma has gone above and beyond what anyone would expect,” Poklepovic says. “She has spent weekends with me learning about medicine, and she has worked in the lab with Dr. Shirley Taylor, a geneticist at Massey Cancer Center.”
It’s this hands-on experience that has helped Emma to realize that, though she loves cancer research, she wants to employ a more hands-on role in saving lives. “I really want to go into clinical oncology. Meeting patients and seeing what you can do for them really changed my mind,” she says.
Poklepovic says Emma has been truly engaged in learning research and oncology, and she logs everything she does. “She has taken the time to learn advance genomic laboratory techniques. It’s not something you see very often,” he says. “She has expressed interest in developing patient handout material for chemotherapy and immunotherapy.”
Emma credits her drive to learn and excel to her parents.
When not in the classroom or making medical rounds, Emma enjoys reading and spending time outdoors.
Her level of commitment and sacrifice stands out to Spring.
“I’ve been very impressed with her motivation for someone her age,” she says. “She should be out playing with her friends, and she is OK with being in the hospital with a patient and studying their diseases and trying to learn more.”