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Gabriella’s Story

2020 Educational Enrichment Fund Scholar

Epilepsy has changed my outlook on healthcare, because it gave me an insider’s perspective of the concerns that accompany chronic conditions. At age three, taking seizure medications for left mesial temporal sclerosis and frontal cortical dysplasia became a part of my daily routine. I never thought about how my condition would affect my studies or my professional career until high school. I became interested in exploring the world of neurology beyond what I learned regarding my case.

At Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), I interned for a neurologist who allowed me to observe her clinics for pediatric epilepsy and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. I studied the cognitive impairment that results from these conditions and saw first-hand the effects of each one. Until then, I had never met anyone else with epilepsy. Within two weeks, I witnessed multiple cases of epilepsy that varied in level of severity. My experience at MGH catalyzed my decision to major in Neuroscience in college.

I then accepted a job as a laboratory technician growing clinical grade neurons at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, because I wanted to apply my knowledge of neurobiological mechanisms to a real-world setting. While working at the facility, I became interested in a career in clinical research, because it entailed more patient interaction. I accepted a Clinical Research Coordinator position at Memorial and became the primary coordinator for a genetic sequencing study. This project centered on a tumor-sequencing test called MSK-IMPACT, which sequences patients’ tumor and germline DNA to identify mutated genes, thereby determining treatment assignments that increase response rates. However, patients lacking life insurance feared insurance approval biases in the case that insurance companies uncovered genes in their germline DNA that predetermine certain diseases. Fear of insurance bias withheld the opportunity for patients to take initiative against heritable diseases that they might not have otherwise known about. Even though I was not working with epileptic patients, the job peaked my interest in learning about the gaps in insurance policy for patients with chronic illnesses like epilepsy.

In graduate school, I want to apply what I have learned about economically debilitating insurance problems. For example, rising prices of drugs and concomitant medications are problematic for patients with low socioeconomic status, and they pay thousands of dollars in administration fees. Granted, hospitals require funding to cover costs, but I maintain that more should be done to increase the affordability of insurance plans. I am attending the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia to learn more about the design, development, and rationale of the policies that best accommodate chronically ill underprivileged populations.

By expanding my specialized knowledge of how health policy affects epilepsy patients, I can research how to deliver quality healthcare at lower costs to them. I will study multiple perspectives on policies and their perceived consequences for epilepsy patients in addition to the societal impact of insurance plans for chronically ill patients in a setting of social inequality. A graduate education will support my goal of implementing and improving these plans.

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