LIDIJA BARBARIC: UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE FOR COMPASSIONATE CARE

Lidija Barbaric holds an empathetic view on the human experience which drives her to deliver compassionate patient care. Moved by the experiences around her, Lidija is committed to leveraging technology in order to advance opportunities for her future patients.

Lidija was born in Bosnia, and when she was just one year old, her family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after learning that Lidija required a liver transplant. An only child, Lidija considers her parents her greatest role models, and credits their hard work, adaptability in unforeseen circumstances, and resilience for providing her with a wonderful life. After graduating from Pittsburgh Public Schools, Lidija attended Chatham University, where she studied biochemistry and music. Lidija’s desire to advance science further drove Lidija to Carnegie Mellon, where she pursued her master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Here, the breadth of the available knowledge surprised her, and she was excited by the mosaic of possibilities that could emerge from this field.

Lidija and parents at white coat ceremony
Lidija with her parents at her white coat ceremony.

Immediately after graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Lidija moved to Memphis where she began oncology research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Lidija recalls loving “every part” of working at St. Jude, particularly the frequent interaction with the children undergoing treatments, allowing Lidija the opportunity to see how her research might help them in the future. As she worked hard advancing the field through research, these interactions served as fuel for Lidija to continue pushing the field forward.

Lidija and coworker dressed as monsters for a Halloween party
Lidija dressing up with a co-worker on Halloween at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Lidija recalls one particular individual, who she was able to see graduate from high school. “This kid brought the same kind of drive for knowledge and enthusiasm for life on his best day as his worst. That was extremely motivating for me.” She recalls that it was difficult to be upset about an experiment that went wrong or to have excuses as to why she shouldn’t pursue her own goals when he never stopped dreaming of everything he wanted to do when he could leave the hospital. Lidija’s time at St. Jude revealed to her that she felt very comfortable in the lab, but interacting with patients was increasingly where she wanted to spend her time. It was this experience that further fueled her curiosity about becoming a physician.

Lidija chose to pursue new opportunities that would bring her closer to the clinic, so after three years at St. Jude, she moved back to Pittsburgh to work for the bone marrow transplant program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. This was Lidija’s first experience with clinical research, allowing her to see what physicians experience on a day-to-day basis. This transitioned Lidija from doing bone marrow transplants in mice, to watching physicians perform bone marrow transplants on people. “It definitely helped me in realizing that I wanted to go to a school that had a strong belief in the research component and how that can make me a better physician,” Lidija recalled.

Advancing medicine for quality patient care

Throughout all of Lidija’s experiences, she has continuously cultivated her empathy for the human experience at Camp Chihopi, a transplant camp where she has been a counselor for the last eight years. Camp Chihopi is a camp for children who have received solid organ transplants, and provides children with a weekend full of activities such as horseback riding, dancing or rock climbing with other children who have had similar experiences. Through Lidija’s experience at St. Jude and at Camp Chihopi, she drew inspiration from watching the resiliency of kids dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Lidija shares that whenever she forgets the difference between a problem and an inconvenience, she thinks of the many children who have inspired her over the years. “People are fighting and dealing with something every day, and there’s a chance you can change that for them,” she said.

Lidija Barbaric, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lidija at Camp Chihopi in 2016.

As Lidija turned her attention toward applying to medical school, she first encountered the Carle Illinois College of Medicine while listening to a podcast. She heard Dean King Li discuss how technology would advance medicine, but the sincerity in his voice when he described the impact of innovation on his own field – radiology – was what stood out to her the most. He stated that in the end, the physician will need to gain the patient’s trust, and it’s up to the physician to know what’s best for the patient. In response, Lidija dropped everything to find out if she could still apply.

Lidija is now a member of the inaugural class at Carle Illinois, and it’s no surprise that her favorite part has been the very thing that allows her to apply her empathy: the week-to-week patient interaction. “It gives you context that just can’t be provided from a textbook,” she says. She also draws inspiration from her classmates and her professors. Of her classmates, she says, “I know that I am among people that understand the gravity of what we’re pursuing here, and that makes me feel so good. Not only to know that I’m amongst people like that, but it makes one feel very positive about the future.”

“I know that I am among people that understand the gravity of what we’re pursuing here, and that makes me feel so good.”

As Lidija works hard alongside her classmates, she has found the support she needs from her professors. “My professors have shown me a lot of compassion, a lot of patience, and support. I think being such a small class and also entering this new adventure together, we’ve been very lucky to have a lot of one-on-one support. If you have a question, if you come up with an idea that the whole class can benefit from, all you have to do is ask and someone always reaches out and answers and tries to fulfill that need,” she said.

As Lidija gains more knowledge and works to advance medicine, she is committed to the very thing that Dr. Li shared on the podcast: ensuring that these advances only improve and escalate the degree to which she can offer quality care to her patients. Lidija recalls an old adage that was shared with her before beginning medical school: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” As Lidija seeks to expand what’s currently possible in medicine, she mutually commits her efforts to cultivating a compassionate, present approach to caring for her future patients.

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