SAMANTHA HOUSER: CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO TO IMPROVE THE HUMAN CONDITION

If there’s one guiding principle that has carried Samantha Houser through her academic journey, it’s compassion. It’s a trait that Sam possesses through her natural disposition, but also because it’s a trait she admires in the people she looks up to. Sam cites her grandmother as one of the biggest role models in her life, whose genuine kindness and positivity have helped shaped Sam into the compassionate person she is today.

Growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Sam had always been a bright student with a sharp intellectual curiosity. Despite this, she was originally hesitant about pursuing medicine because she had yet to explore all options. So, she majored in biomedical engineering and minored in Spanish at Georgia Institute of Technology, where her intellect and worldview were further nurtured. Through bioengineering research and volunteering experiences, she discovered she was passionate about providing equitable health care for all, and that the best way to do so was at the intersection of innovation and medicine. Two experiences from Sam’s undergraduate career stand as impactful in helping shape her perspectives: her biomedical engineering capstone project, which solidified her desire to pursue medicine, and her volunteer work with Good Samaritan Health Center, which informed the path she hoped to take as a doctor.

Samantha Houser, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sam at her graduation from Georgia Tech.

As a senior at Georgia Tech, Sam participated in her biomedical engineering capstone design project, in which she and her team were tasked with finding a way to improve the quality of life for an eight-year-old boy from the local Atlanta area who suffered from spina bifida and wore leg braces. As part of this project, Sam had the opportunity to sit in on his doctors visits, ask questions, interview various medical professionals, and observe his day-to-day life. At the end of the semester, Sam and her team had designed and built a prototype for new leg orthotics. These braces had the superior functionality to automatically lock and unlock just as human knees do, in order to enhance support and movement. While the braces provided a solution for the time being, and the team was proud of the project results, Sam was frustrated thinking about the limitations that engineers face in monitoring the progress of patients they serve.

Samantha Houser, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sam presenting her capstone project while at Georgia Tech.

“As a pure engineer,” Sam said, “your project lasts however long before you complete the task at hand. You wouldn’t necessarily be following up with patients directly to see whether the device or intervention worked for them.”

For Sam, while it was rewarding to have created such an orthotics solution, something in the back of her mind couldn’t stop thinking about the device’s long-term impact on the patient. The seed that was planted for compassionate care through this project motivated Sam further in her pursuit of a career in medicine so that she could see similar devices come to fruition and be able to truly make an impact in patients’ lives.

Sam’s journey to the Carle Illinois College of Medicine was a rollercoaster. She recalls getting the acceptance call just three short weeks before she had to be in Champaign-Urbana for her first day of classes. Because her call came so late, Sam originally thought she wouldn’t be admitted and had already taken the time to redo her entire application. However, Sam appreciates that her journey to Carle Illinois played out this way, because it gave her a chance to reflect on her experiences, improve her application, and realize how truly grateful she was to be here.

“What motivates me every day is knowing that the more I learn, the better I’m going to be able to help my future patients,” says Sam.

 “What motivates me every day is knowing that the more I learn, the better I’m going to be able to help my future patients.”

She enjoys attending clinic sessions every week to be able to interact with patients early on in her medical school journey. Sam, a naturally thoughtful person, tries to live by some advice she’s received in this new chapter of her life: she strives to not take anything for granted and to not judge a book by its cover. While she admits that both of these pieces of advice seem cliché, they’ve helped her to take advantage of, and value, the wide variety of experiences at Carle Illinois. Additionally, Sam is thrilled about the diversity of her classmates, with whom she is able to share this journey and engage a multitude of perspectives in both academic and social settings. Armed with her open mind, intrinsic motivation, and a strong sense of compassion, Sam is well prepared to conquer medical school and one day excel as a physician.

Because it’s still early in her medical school career, Sam has not decided on the specialty she wants to pursue. However, she can pinpoint experiences that have broadly shaped her idea of what she wants to be doing–working to improve access and quality of health care for marginalized populations. As a volunteer Spanish interpreter for Good Samaritan Health Center–a healthcare clinic serving the Atlanta area–Sam witnessed first hand the disparity of access to resources for different communities.

“I just think it’s unacceptable,” she mused.

Applying compassion to challenge the status quo

Working with these patients, Sam cultivated an unwavering belief that health care is a right and that every patient deserves to be treated the same, no matter who they are, where they come from, or the diseases they are battling. As a future physician-innovator, Sam knows that regardless of the area of medicine in which she is working, she wants to be an advocate for her patients and the communities she serves. She wants to help increase the opportunities for people in underprivileged areas to have access to equitable health care. Sam plans to begin this as early as when she works on her capstone project at Carle Illinois. She is inspired by the professors and clinicians at Carle Illinois, because she can see the dedication they have to their patients. She is sure to be able to use the resources that Carle Illinois can provide to start her career as a doctor championing a movement for human-centered, technology-driven medicine.

The generosity of people like you made it possible for Samantha and her classmates to attend Carle Illinois with scholarships.