“It was soccer that showed me Iowa, but once I got here I knew this would be a great fit for what I want to do in the future.” Claire Graves has been playing soccer her whole life, including currently for the University of Iowa, but Internal Medicine has been helping her picture what her life will eventually look like without it. When she was fifteen and still living in her hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, Ms. Graves considered the University of Iowa as a place to continue playing soccer, because she “wanted a Big 10 atmosphere,” that was far—but not too far—from home. But, once she got here and saw the opportunities available to undergraduates within the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the decision to become a Hawkeye was made.
Because she knew she wanted to go into medicine, Ms. Graves initially began volunteering in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit in the winter of her freshman year to get exposure to a hospital setting. There she was able to assist the nursing staff as well as to observe bedside procedures performed by the physicians. More recently, she joined a job-shadowing opportunity available to student athletes known as Hawkeye Health C.A.R.E. (Career and Research Exposure). She follows providers in Family Medicine and in the Emergency Department, asking questions and “getting a feel for what is most interesting” to her. She also knew that she wanted to see what the research side of things looked like and was hired as a research assistant in Dr. Barry London’s lab last winter.
Since then, Ms. Graves has been working mostly with Alex Greiner, a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics. Mr. Greiner has been focused on identification of new genes and pathways involved in Brugada syndrome. Brugada syndrome is characterized by ventricular arrhythmias and, potentially, sudden cardiac death. While mutations in approximately 20 genes have been identified as causes of Brugada syndrome, they only account for roughly 30% of diagnosed cases. The London Lab is currently investigating other potential mutations that contribute to this and hopefully identify disease mechanisms which are amenable to therapeutic intervention. In addition to general lab duties, Ms. Graves has been assisting with the development of mouse lines, which will help them examine one potential new pathway in a live model.
Ms. Graves says the last six months in the lab have been instructive in surprising ways. She enjoys putting previous classroom instruction into practice. “Seeing that (knowledge) apply and build into a body on a bigger spectrum is the most interesting thing to me. Small things that I thought were insignificant have the most amazing impact.” Although she continues to get exposure to other clinical activity through Health C.A.R.E., she wants to remain a part of the lab, “as long as they’ll have me.” She especially enjoys being part of a “wonderful” team, adding, “All of the people are awesome.”
Her colleagues in the lab feel similarly about her. Mr. Greiner said, “Claire brings enthusiasm and passion to anything she does, and has been a welcome addition to the London Lab. Her ability to manage life as an undergraduate student, Division I athlete, and undergraduate research assistant is nothing short of impressive. She has a bright future ahead of her.” A fellow pre-med classmate of Ms. Graves, Pravda Quinones, is also impressed at the balance she achieves. “Her strong work ethic, uplifting attitude, and collaborative nature helps others move forward.”
As determined as she is to grow as a researcher, with two seasons left to play soccer for Iowa, Ms. Graves is still reserving plenty of her focus for the sport. She hopes to help take her team back to the Big Ten Tournament and to help mentor a new cohort of first-year student athletes joining the team this fall. When she is not in the lab or on the field or in class or studying, she enjoys spending time with friends and traveling. She recently visited her brother, Alex, in New York, where she got tours of the Tisch and Bellevue hospitals from a friend of Alex’s. As impressed as she was with New York University, Ms. Graves admits that the Carver College of Medicine is still her top choice when it comes time to complete her medical school applications.