Class of 2021: Lauren King Brings Unique Experience to Becoming a Gynecologist
Lauren King comes from a family of doctors, so it might not seem unusual that she would also choose medicine. But she will bring something unique to her practice and research.
King, who grew up in Vermont and came to the University of Virginia School of Medicine after graduating from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, described her experience as “complicated.” While she was a medical student here, she was also a patient.
After her second year, King was diagnosed with a rare type of uterine cancer and had surgery in 2018. Nevertheless, she stayed on track, and her love of academic medicine inspired her to take an additional year to attend a prestigious National Institutes of Health research fellowship from July 2019 to June 2020. In the middle of that, she went through two more surgeries for cancer in February and April of 2020.
Nonetheless, she will get that medical degree in a few days and become “Dr. Lauren King.”
In her third year, when medical students trade the classroom for clinical rotations and treating patients, she was drawn to the female patients, she said, because of her own experiences.
“I know how hard it is to talk about female problems,” she said.
“As third year of medical school progressed, I found that my experiences as a cancer patient were a part of me that I could hide, but I could not ignore. Talking about my health, in particular my reproductive system, felt private, difficult, and sometimes awkward. Likewise, when I had patients with concerns related to their female organs, they too were reticent and embarrassed.”
Having had three cancer surgeries at UVA, King’s doctors became the mentors who taught her to be a caring physician.
“I wanted to be a listening ear to my patients as my doctors had been for me,” King said, “and to make them feel more comfortable with their bodies and expressing the concerns they held.”
Everyone was so supportive, she said, and she herself is currently interested in specializing in gynecology oncology.
One of her doctors and mentors, Dr. Leigh Anne Cantrell, an associate professor in UVA Health’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology, said, “As you can imagine, we adore Lauren. She is an amazing person and will be a phenomenal physician. We are extremely proud of her and can’t wait to see all that she accomplishes in the future.”
King was interested in exploring medical research more deeply, so she applied to the NIH for the Medical Research Scholars Program between her third and fourth years of medical school. The program accepts about 40 medical students from all over the country in a range of fields. They lived together at the Cloisters Convent, the oldest building on the NIH campus in Bethesda, that houses a center for health research and education.
It was exciting to be there, she said, and it strengthened her desire to focus on women’s health. She worked with epidemiologist Britton Trabert at the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics on research that got published.
She discovered the power and usefulness of big data as the research group combed through 18 years of birth control trends and looked at studies of inflammatory markers to determine risk factors for women who’d had benign conditions, such as endometriosis, fibroids or ovarian cysts.
As the pandemic gripped the nation last year, they were able to continue their research online, and she saw how the NIH physicians and researchers were figuring out in real time how to continue working, including patient care. Then the students had to leave in March, and she returned to Charlottesville.
By summer, medical students were allowed back into the UVA Medical Center for clinical rotations, with COVID protocols in place. For instance, they did not work with COVID patients, whom UVA has been treating in a new wing that was converted for their care.
At the same time, King prepared for her next step, going through virtual interviews for residency matching. She and her fiancé, Alex Jones, matched for residencies at the same place – “couples-matched,” they call it. He’s getting his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston. The pair met at Hamilton College, where King double-majored in chemistry and math, when they were both on the swim team.
They are in the process of moving to Dallas to join the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the largest residency training program in the country. The highly regarded obstetrics-gynecology program there trains more than one of every 50 residents in that field.
King said she loved her time at UVA, from research to surgery to patient care. She wants to be there for patients, following them through the whole cancer experience, even if it comes to palliative care.
She starts in her new position July 1.