Every now and then, there is someone who comes along that makes a difference in the community. Ladera Heights native, Shannon Sullivan will begin her 3rd year of medical school at Howard University College of Medicine (HUCM) in Washington, D.C. this July and is a M.D. Candidate for the class of 2020. She studying to help make sure new generations survive their entry into this world.
“Neonatology is a subspecialty of pediatrics involved in the care of newborns, including those who were born prematurely and have congenital diseases, among a wide array of other illness and diseases,” said Sullivan. “From my perspective, neonatology can give newborns a chance to thrive, especially with all of the technological and medical advancements that have been made over the years, such as the discovery and development of synthetic pulmonary surfactant to help premature infants breathe.”
She’s known since age 12 that working in the medical field was where she would fulfill her purpose. Sullivan found out she was born prematurely at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Cedars-Sinai. After learning about her struggle to survive at birth, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.
“I was born 3 months early, with both my mother and I fighting for our lives,” said Sullivan. “I spent a year requiring oxygen therapy.”
She continued, “My love and curiosity for science and medicine never wavered from my childhood. When I was in 9th grade, I emailed Dr. Charles Simmons, Chair of Pediatrics and Director of Neonatology at Cedars-Sinai, expressing my budding interest in neonatology.
“That marked the beginning of a mentorship that continues to this day.”
Sullivan was a teen volunteer in the NICU administrative office and completed three research internships. She has been a part of the Cedars-Sinai Teen Volunteer Program, which places teens in clerical and clinical areas of the hospital to interact with patients, answer phones and perform other helpful services. After high school, Sullivan attended Columbia University in New York, earning a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering in 2014. Sullivan entered the program and served as a pediatrics research intern through July 2015.
A busy student at Howard University, Sullivan shared a little bit about her schedule.
“There isn’t an ‘average’ day in medical school, because we are all involved in a different school and extracurricular activities throughout the day,” said Sullivan. “In addition to morning lectures, we have interactive small group sessions where we reinforce what we’ve learned and apply it to clinical scenarios.”
She continued, “In medical school, I have been able to immerse myself into the field in so many ways inside and outside the classroom.
“With every opportunity I have had, my love and passion for medicine grows.”
While pursuing her dreams has never been in doubt, the road towards her goals haven’t been easy. Like with any pursuit in life, there have been challenges along the way, but Sullivan has met them and overcome them. She spoke on some of those challenges she’s faced.“I have encountered teachers, friends, and strangers who judged me and doubted my abilities based on my identity as a female and/or minority,” said Sullivan. “Their thoughts used to negatively affect me.”
She added, “Through my personal and professional growth within the Los Angeles-based Association of Black Women Physicians (ABWP) as a pre-med student, and now as part of the HUCM family, the ABWP and HUCM communities have helped me to wholeheartedly believe in my potential as a future physician and provided opportunities for students to not only succeed but also reach back and pull the next person up.
“Daily, I aim to be a more open-minded and compassionate person. I seek to encourage underrepresented minorities to keep striving for their goals, regardless of any doubts they or others may have.”
Sullivan took some time to explain the importance of Neonatology and the importance of her research and work to the community.
“Much research has been done about statistics of prematurity, access to prenatal health care, and health disparities over the years,” said Sullivan. “From my perspective, neonatology can give newborns a chance to thrive, especially with all of the technological and medical advancements that have been made over the years, such as the discovery and development of synthetic pulmonary surfactant to help premature infants breathe.”
She continued, “During my time in the NICU as a Research Intern at Cedars-Sinai, I worked on projects that could further improve the neonatal outcomes. For example, I contributed to a project focused on the development of non-invasive, neonatal acoustic gastrointestinal (GI) biosensors that would measure acoustic signals from the GI tract of newborns. We hypothesized that a quantifiable biomarker of neonatal GI motility would help facilitate the standardization of feeding practices and improve clinical management of NICU patients.
“Before that, in my senior year at Columbia, I worked on a senior design project in which my group designed, built, and tested a continuous fetal monitoring device in order to improve the quality of life and increase patients’ access to treatment in low-resource countries.”
Sullivan is making a difference in the medical field and is no doubt an inspiration to many around her. There are many youth in the community who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine. She shared some advice with how they should go about starting those careers.
“Pursuing medicine is a long road that required commitment, dedication, and perseverance,” said Sullivan.
“Not everyone has a straight path, and that is completely ok. I tell my mentees often that whatever they choose to do should be because they have an interest or passion – not because they feel it is what they ‘should do’ or to check boxes or to fulfill someone else’s wishes.
“I hope students interested in medicine can pursue their interests and passions whether it’s in scientific research, clinical research, volunteering, music, fashion, sports, writing, film-making, etc. because these experiences will add to your story as a future medical student and as a future physician.
“Find a mentor (or several) and maintain a relationship with them to discuss your life and career goals, dreams, and plans. Having a support system is important in your medical journey.”