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Child Care

A Pitt student draws inspiration from a toddler’s plight

Written by Niki Kapsambelis

Lauren Faulk

Lauren Faulk

As Lauren Faulk pushed her volunteer’s cart through the corridors at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh offering water, diapers, and towels to patients and their families, she noticed one child in particular—a toddler stricken with cancer. Faulk has a soft spot for all children, yet this girl stood out: She was extremely ill, and after being dropped off at the hospital, she never once received a visit from her family.

“Days like that were hard,” says Faulk, who was an undergraduate biological sciences major at Pitt at that time in 2004. “I cried sometimes at the hospital and on my way back.”

During her four-hour volunteer shifts, she often played with the 14-month-old girl, who was a special favorite of the nurses. And Faulk learned to control her emotions and focus her attention on a career that she hoped would one day help other children in need of care. More than ever, she knew she wanted to be a doctor.

The experience “made me interested in pediatrics, even though it was really hard,” says Faulk, who is now in her third year of medical school at Pitt. “It was an area where I thought I could have a big impact on kids’ lives, and it would be really rewarding.”

The daughter of a small-town kindergarten teacher and a department store salesman, Faulk always knew she would be a doctor. “I don’t have a good, life-changing moment like some people,” she says. Rather, from an early age, she just knew.

Originally from Clarion, Pa., Faulk thought she would attend college on a small campus to ease the transition from small-town life. But she visited Pitt with a high school friend and was impressed with the opportunities the University had to offer. “It’s a great place for someone who’s interested in the sciences, because we have UPMC and all of the hospitals,” she says.

In addition to studying biological sciences, she took courses in chemistry, French, Italian, and literature as a Pitt undergrad before entering medical school. Already, she had a head start thanks to Joseph Darby, a critical care physician at UPMC-Presbyterian. “He taught me the art behind the practice of medicine,” she says. Darby allowed Faulk to accompany him on morning rounds through the hospital’s intensive care unit during her junior year and showed her some of the tools of the trade: how to read an X-ray, how to talk to families, how to handle patients who are nearing the end of their lives.

Besides shadowing doctors and volunteering at local hospitals, Faulk served as a member of the Blue and Gold Society, an organization of outstanding students who serve as liaisons between the Pitt Alumni Association and the general student body. She also worked as a Pitt Pathfinder tour guide, as well as an undergraduate teaching assistant for chemistry and biology classes.

Faulk hopes to return to teaching at some point in her career, but her leading choice for a specialty is obstetrics and gynecology. Last year, Faulk spent a month at Magee-Womens Hospital, where she developed an affinity for the maternity ward. “It was the most amazing feeling, being able to watch someone having a child,” she says. “It was my first time seeing that, and the way the doctors were so involved in the care and so friendly, it seemed like it would be a really good fit for me.”

Although the children she’ll be dealing with are newborns, Faulk will always draw inspiration from the toddler she met on her volunteer rounds as a Pitt undergraduate. The child survived only two months, but her influence lives on. Sometimes, life’s misfortunes can also lead to a bounty of good.

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