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Medical Student Anna Lee Receives ARCS Scholarship

Lee was recognized for her research in the lab of surgery professor Kia Washington, MD.

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Written by Greg Glasgow on October 3, 2022

ARCS Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting academically outstanding students in science, engineering, math, technology, and medical research, has awarded a $7,500 scholarship to Anna Lee, a second-year medical student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

 Lee was recognized specifically for her work in the lab of Kia Washington, MD, a professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery whose research is devoted to restoring vision through whole eye transplantation.

We talked with Lee about her journey to medical school, her work in Washington’s lab, and what it means to receive the ARCS scholarship.

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Why did you want to pursue a career in medicine?

I came to medical school largely because of my dad. He had a terminal illness when I was a teenager, and I wanted to be there for other patients the way that I was there for my dad. I want to be the person who walks with a patient every step of the way until they feel like they can do it on their own. It’s important to me to be up to date in research and help lay the foundations for what will hopefully be a treatment option in the future, but I’m also learning what it takes to be a doctor and how I can best support patients.

What has it been like working in Dr. Washington’s lab?

I’ve been able to be a part of every single process, from shadowing the surgeons to staining the retinas and re-probing them. It’s been very difficult at times; I get frustrated because the experiments aren't working the way that I want them to, or the way that I think that they should work. And it’s been very humbling to see a project from last year all the way up until now and even hopefully into the future. I haven’t been able to get that in many of my other lab experiences. I've enjoyed every step, and now I know, “Wow, this is why research takes forever.”

How has the medical school experience been for you so far?

I’ve been really enjoying every step of medical school. It’s been eye-opening for me. I initially thought I wanted to go into oncology, but now I’m interested in surgery. Dr. Washington is in hand surgery, and I’ve been exploring breast reconstruction for cancer patients and more of the plastic and reconstructive aspects of medicine. That's been really cool, to see the creativity in the field.

What kind of a role model has Dr. Washington been for you?

To see what Dr. Washington does in her lab, and how that’s completely different from what she does in clinic — it’s inspirational to see a woman in medicine who has a family, who’s part-time in the clinic, part-time in the lab. She shows that you can do it all. That’s something I didn’t grow up with and never saw in undergrad, and I am really enjoying having mentors like that here at the University of Colorado to guide my journey. If she can do it, then I have the opportunity to do it, too.

Why did you apply for the ARCS scholarship?

It’s a great program to push me and keep me accountable for my research. They have you set goals for the next year and discuss what you’d like to accomplish. This is such a busy year, and I’m very much a goal-oriented person. It’s best for me to have set goals with something behind it. The scholarship also means that the financial burden is decreased a bit for me, because I’m an out-of-state student. It’s nice to have that as a supporting cushion, and it’s also nice to feel like, “Hey, you're actually doing a great job. We see that, and we’re going to reward you for that.” That’s something I value a lot.

On top of your research and classwork, you’re also president for the CU School of Medicine class of 2025?

Yes, I am class president. Sometimes I feel like I do a lot, but I truly enjoy everything that I do. My old mentor always said, “It’s never a ‘have to,’ it's always a ‘get to.’” I get to represent my class, go to my dance classes, play basketball with friends, go to the lab, learn more techniques. understand how I can be a better doctor in the future. It's always a “get-to.”

Before coming to the CU School of Medicine, you double majored in neuroscience and dance at the University of Washington. Do you still do anything with dance?

I do. I’m on the dance team at Collaboratory Complex in Denver. It’s my way to dive into the community and learn a little bit more about other people, not just those who are in medical school. I am taking a step back from it now that I’m in Colorado Springs to do my clerkship year, but during my first year, and mainly in the summer, I was taking dance classes every week. I found my new dance family there. That’s something that was really important to me.