Featured image of article: Featured Alum: Alisha Birk (Class of 2015)

Featured Alum: Alisha Birk (Class of 2015)

While attending ConVal, Alisha Birk (Class of 2015) was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by an internship and the STEM classes that she took during her senior year.

Since graduating from ConVal, Alisha has obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Bioengineering at Stanford University and is still at Stanford pursuing a medical degree. Her goal is to use scientific innovation to help patients achieve the best care possible.

Here is Alisha’s reflection:

“During the summer of my junior year at ConVal, I did an internship at Monadnock Community Hospital with the help of Mrs. O’Neil. This was my first exposure to the world of medicine, and I absolutely loved it. I was able to rotate through the different departments around the hospital, including same-day surgery, radiology, and pediatrics.”

“While this experience sparked my journey into medicine, my career path was solidified during my senior year at ConVal when I faced homelessness. In September of 2014, I became homeless due to a domestic violence incident at home, which left me estranged from both of my parents. Luckily, the Andersons have given me a place to stay and call home. I am grateful for their continuous kindness, generosity, and love.”

“As a result of my homelessness, I was removed from my parents’ health insurance, and I was unable to seek care when I fell ill in December of that year. I had to learn how to navigate the medical system and apply for health insurance at the age of 17. Luckily, I found myself in a supportive and caring community at ConVal. My guidance counselor, Ms. Knarr, helped me to apply to state Medicaid in between my classes. This experience made me realize how challenging it may be for patients who come from a similar background as me to access the health care they deserve. The health care challenges I faced inspired me to pursue a career in medicine so I could help my patients overcome the challenges they face in their own care.”

“I will forever be grateful for the kindness I experienced from Ms. Knarr, the Andersons, and the entire ConVal community when I was going through this difficult time. The support and flexibility from my teachers made a big difference in my life. At the time, I was working two part-time jobs to support myself, while juggling a full-time schedule of AP classes and leading multiple after-school groups, including ConVal Interact, the Math Team, and Spanish Club.”

“Due to my limited time outside of school, I would sit in the guidance office with Ms. Knarr and work on my college applications. Without the support of Ms. Knarr, my teachers, the Andersons, and my friends, I may not have had the opportunity to attend Stanford. While at Stanford, I decided to pursue a degree in bioengineering due to an experience I had during my senior year in AP Biology. During our final weeks, we had to watch a TED talk and present the talk to the class. After watching a few, I stumbled upon a talk about a new technique for hip replacement surgery using the patient’s own stem cells. It was eye-opening and inspiring to see innovation changing the way we practice medicine.”

“Bioengineering was a perfect fit for me as it allowed me to apply my love for science to medical applications. During my senior year at Stanford, I developed a medical device, called OpticLine, with a few of my classmates as a part of my senior capstone project. OpticLine utilizes optical interrogation methods to detect infection earlier in peritoneal dialysis patients. Peritoneal dialysis patients are at a higher risk of getting an infection since they do dialysis on their own at home. A small mistake like not properly washing your hands can result in touch contamination and infection.”

“I would have never aspired to be a physician-scientist if it weren’t for the patients I have had the opportunity to interact with along the way. The work I have done with OpticLine has inspired me to work on solving gaps in current medical practice. In April of 2019, my team and I won KidneyX’s Redesign Dialysis Phase 1 prize competition, which is a national innovator accelerator competition for dialysis products. We were invited to speak about our device at the KidneyX Summit in Washington, D.C. At the KidneyX Summit, I was able to talk to patients one-on-one about our device, which was an invaluable experience. Not only were we able to get feedback, but we also were reminded by patients themselves of the importance of our work. My drive towards innovation stems from interactions I have had with these patients; their experiences, concerns, and challenges continue to inspire the work I do. I will continue to use my scientific knowledge and creative thinking skills to solve real-world medical challenges.”

“If anyone is interested in learning more about applying to college, applying to medical school, conducting basic science research, or are just simply wanting to chat about life, please feel free to contact me at abirk96@stanford.edu. With the amount of support and guidance I have received along my journey, I am more than happy to help anyone in any way I can.”