If you’re looking for Carson Wills ’14 in the next eight years, you’ll likely find her in Hershey, Pa. This summer, Wills begins her studies at Penn State College of Medicine, to earn both her M.D. and her Ph.D. The combined program is designed for scientists interested in a career involving research and clinical work in related fields of medicine, and is fully funded for the eight years of schooling. Candidates first attend medical school for two years, then complete their Ph.D. in four years, before finishing medical school in the final two years of the program and continuing on to a residency in their field of specialty afterwards.
A biology major and a psychology minor, Wills entered college with the intent to attend medical school post-graduation. She first became interested in a dual degree after spending a few summers in stem cell research labs with former Haverford professors Steve Emerson, a researcher and physician, and Jennifer Punt, a biologist and doctor of veterinary medicine. “My time spent doing research at Haverford really inspired me to pursue this career path,” she says. “I give a lot of credit to all the professors in the Biology Department for their support and for giving me the tools I’ll need to succeed in grad school.”
Wills credits her initial interest in science and oncology to her mother, who battled cancer while Wills was in middle school. After this family experience, Wills dedicated herself to volunteer work in hospitals through middle and high school. In college, she did internships and research, including working on her senior biology thesis with Dr. Mitchell Weiss at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.Wills hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences focusing on cancer biology. She is considering a residency in pediatric hematology or oncology, and is interested in becoming a physician scientist, meaning she would spend about 80 percent of her professional time in a lab, and about 20 percent of her time doing clinical work. “I see becoming a physician scientist as the best way to have both a direct impact on patients in the clinic, and a global impact on patients around the world through research,” she says.
Although classes officially begin on July 16, Wills began lab rotations in Hershey in mid-June, as part of the dual program’s accelerated degree. “I have such a passion for both medicine and research that I’m happy to have found a program where I don’t have to choose between the two,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a great 8 years.”
—Kelsey Ryan ’14
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-Haverford plans of members of the Class of 2014.