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Professor Alan Childs and Lauren Howland '11

When a task comes easily, some say, “It’s not brain surgery.” Lauren Howland ’11 (Vestal, N.Y.) moves so effortlessly between activities, she makes handling any task look simple—and the neuroscience major may even be a brain surgeon someday.

While president of Lafayette Activities Forum, Howland helped orchestrate one of the most successful spring concerts on campus in the last decade. She cared for children through the Third Street Alliance so their parents could learn how to get a job or a GED. Reaching out to campus visitors, she worked as a Lafayette ambassador and tour guide. As a student intern, she helped organize the Lafayette Leadership Institute. Eight different campus organizations welcomed her leadership, planning, and action. If it happened at Lafayette, Howland may have made it possible.

“No matter your level of leadership, whether general membership or the presidency, you can shape the goals of that group,” she says. “Leadership is universal; you use it no matter which field you are in.”

As a high school sophomore, her grandfather’s brain hemorrhage changed Howland’s career focus. Originally set to be a writer, she found her grandfather facing the fight of his life.

“Following that experience, I developed a strong interest in the inner workings of the brain and focused my high school honors project around its different structures,” she recalls.

At Lafayette, she shadowed the doctor who had earlier performed her grandfather’s life-saving brain surgery and witnessed neurosurgery performed on a young epileptic. “I got to see a severing of the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres,” she says. “I know few people who have seen the process from both the patient’s perspective and the doctor’s.”

Understanding how patients view their doctors provided the foundation for two studies Howland created with Alan Childs, professor of psychology. That and a TV show.

“I really enjoy Grey’s Anatomy,” she confesses. “I came across an article that looked at the show and how it impacted the way people viewed physicians and expectations they had of them.”

Inspired, Howland teamed with Childs to research whether watching medical TV programs, particularly fictional and documentary, influenced a student’s decision to pursue a medical career. They found that strong role models depicted in medical documentaries did attract students to the medical profession. Even fictional TV contributed to the choice. This year, Howland shared results from the study at the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Undergraduate Psychology Conference.

Previously, Howland and Childs had researched whether having an attractive physician had any effect on patient perceptions. “While it’s not politically correct, people do judge by appearance,” Howland says. “I wanted to combine that with a gender study, a combination others had not examined, something new and different that would add to current research.”

Though the study did not prove that a hunky doc affects patient perceptions, Howland and Childs found that patients preferred a doctor of their same gender.

Howland plans to attend medical school. “I do like surgery, the thrill of it,” she says. “Everyone has a contribution to make, whether big or small. The older generations are passing responsibilities onto us; it’s a time when we can step up and make a difference.”

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