Ariel Thames, a third-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), says she wants to be at the intersection of science and medicine. After a stint at the Department of Health and Human Services — working on the opioid epidemic and implementation of the Affordable Care Act — Thames is working to do the most good by using her policy knowledge and scientific acumen to channel scientific discoveries into effective treatments. Thames aims to use new discoveries from the laboratory to address antimicrobial resistance, allergies and access to medicine around the world.
Why did you choose Feinberg?
What first struck me about Northwestern is the innovative research happening all over campus. As an MSTP student, I was excited by the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of science. The research opportunities, combined with the chance to be trained by world class physicians in Northwestern hospitals and clinics, made Feinberg the perfect fit. I was also so impressed with the Augusta Webster, MD, Office of Medical Education (AWOME) and the MSTP office and knew I would have ample support throughout my training.
What is your background?
I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I attended Vanderbilt University as a Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Honor Scholar. While there, I worked in the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center in Dr. Al Powers’s laboratory, where I sought to better understand the link between cystic fibrosis and diabetes. This work led to two publications and recognition as a Goldwater Scholar. I also co-founded the Scientific Immersion and Mentorship Program, a program designed to connect students to research opportunities on the medical campus. This program grew to over 600 members in its first year and has since provided hundreds of Vanderbilt students with lab positions.
After graduating, I worked as a Truman Scholar in Washington, D.C. through a program led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. I interned in the Department of Health and Human Services where I was part of policy efforts to address the opioid epidemic, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare reform. As a Truman Scholar, I had the opportunity to meet Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and sit in on several congressional hearings regarding the Cancer Moonshot and healthcare reform.
What are your medical or research interests?
My ultimate aim is to alleviate the burden of human disease. I get most excited when medicine and scientific research converge, forming a channel for the application of research discoveries toward better treatments and even cures for patients.
That is why I chose the MSTP and why I am particularly excited about the field of synthetic biology. The tools of synthetic biology have unlocked incredible capabilities. The field has seen efforts to recode an entire genome, build a cell from scratch, and synthesize proteins without the use of living cells, just to name a few. Right now, I am working in the Center for Synthetic Biology in the lab of Michael Jewett, PhD, where my PhD work focuses on addressing antimicrobial resistance, allergies and global access to medicine.
Do you participate in any organizations or societies at Feinberg?
I have served for two years on the Student Review Panel for Feinberg’s Science in Medicine curriculum. On the panel, I work alongside the medical school deans to field student feedback and incorporate it into the medical curriculum. Through this experience, I have not only been able to learn effective teaching strategies from Feinberg’s educators, but I have also seen how committed our deans are to listening to student feedback and making our education the best it can be.
I’ve also been a part of implementing MSTP’s new vertically integrated Journal Club. As a college co-coordinator, I have worked with my classmates to create innovative and informative sessions that range from practicing clinical skills, to learning about different physician-scientist career paths. We have even piloted a new journal club format that gives students the opportunity to practice designing experiments in light of a scientific question. This experience has been a fun way for me to serve my classmates, but also helped me learn effective ways to equip students with important skills for their career.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
My favorite experience at Feinberg has been serving pediatric patients at a federally qualified health center in West Chicago through Feinberg’s Education Centered Medical Home (ECMH) program. ECMH offers a unique opportunity to make a difference in patients’ lives early on in our medical school experience.
ECMH is where I performed my first cardiac exam on a patient, where I made my first diagnosis and where I received my first gift from a patient — a hand drawn picture. During my time in the clinic, I have formed relationships with patients and witnessed firsthand how healthcare can make a difference in the lives of this underserved population.
What advice would you give to prospective medical students?
Pursue activities you inherently enjoy. You may feel pressure to fit a cookie-cutter pre-med or medical student mold, but choose activities based on your passions. When someone reading your resume sees what activities you’ve done, they’ll picture you in positions involving those activities. If what you have chosen reflects what you enjoy doing, you’ll make yourself competitive for a position you will love.