During Spring 2019, Gianna Galu ’21 and three other students spent seven days in the Dominican Republic on a medical mission. Along with a team of doctors and translators, they made house calls and set up pop-up clinics in community centers and churches in the city and secluded rural villages.
“We conducted physicals, recorded family histories, and did evaluations for referrals to the city center hospital,” Gianna says. “For many, it had been years since they had seen a doctor or health professional, and they were incredibly thankful. The sense of community and hospitality was like nothing we had ever experienced.”
The trip was one of several charitable efforts made possible by the Future Leaders in Healthcare Club, the first health and wellness organization on campus that Gianna co-founded with her friend Breanna Williams ’20. In just two years, the group has grown to 40 members who have organized other outreach projects, including collecting supplies for hurricane survivors, and raising money for breast cancer.
Gianna, who is an Honors Student and plans to pursue a career in medicine, says that she was always interested in science, but when she first arrived at St. Thomas Aquinas College, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to be when she grew up. During her first day of chemistry lab in her freshman year, her professor, Dr. Burns asked if she ever thought about going into medicine: “I answered, ‘How would I do that? I can’t get into medical school,’” she recalls. “He asked ‘Why not?’ Now, whenever I doubt myself or worry about achieving my goals, I think why not?”
Since then, the Honors student has pushed full steam ahead, taking advantage of every opportunity to build her knowledge and skills, and get hands-on experience as she prepares for her future career as a healthcare provider. Last summer, she was accepted into Cornell’s summer urban semester, Practicing Medicine: Healthcare, Cultures and Careers. Besides attending weekly seminars, she shadowed physicians in four different specialties at New York Presbyterian Hospital and logged 400 observation hours. “Not only did the experience show me the vast medical inequalities in the city of New York, but it also fueled my desire to fight against public health issues throughout my career.”
While studying at St. Thomas Aquinas College, Gianna is an oncology/histology intern at Pfizer, where she is learning techniques used for cancer research and drug development. It’s a subject of personal interest: Her grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago and has undergone various treatments with courage and a positive outlook.
“Although her cancer will never be cured, she continues to live her life to the fullest, volunteering in our community center, library and church,” Gianna says about her greatest role model. “It is because of her I aspire to help people in the medical field, and also in everyday life.”
Gianna is working toward her EMT license and looks forward to attending a summer program at The University of Oxford in England this year. Her advice for future students? “Get involved, branch out, ask questions, take chances. If I didn’t explore different opportunities that came my way at STAC, I would have never figured out that medicine was for me!”