This month, OECS YES In Action sat down with Patrice Lewis, a 22-year-old scientist from Saint Lucia with aspirations to pioneer groundbreaking research in healthcare using new technology and innovations in medicine.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a biomedical chemistry graduate pursuing a career in the medical and research field. I am passionate about science and the wide range of opportunities that it offers. Since 2016, I have been immersed in clinical and research work, from which I have gained valuable experience.
In addition to science, dance and my faith are my two other passions. Although I have chosen a career path in STEM, I have always had a great love for the arts, especially dance. The art form has helped shape me into the person that I am today and is my most powerful form of self-expression. My faith and my spiritual journey with God keeps me anchored, with a strong sense of purpose and identity.
When did you first notice your inclination towards science? What attracted you to this area?
As a child, I was always intrigued with problem-solving. I would sit with my dad for hours solving 1000-piece puzzles. There has always been a drive in me to find answers and solutions. I also enjoyed experimenting and watching documentaries on Discovery.
I remember walking through the hospital wards and being struck by the sight of patients suffering. I always wished there was something I could do to help. From a very tender age, I took an interest in the health and well-being of others. Little did I know, these were signals into the career path I would take.
My love for science was awakened during my secondary school years at St. Joseph’s Convent. In Form 3, I remember sitting in my first ever Chemistry class, completely fascinated. I then decided to do science subjects for CXC. At Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, I chose Biology and Chemistry as my core subjects. When deciding on a bachelor’s degree, I was torn between these two subjects. Thankfully, I was able to find a program that married the two - Biomedical Chemistry.
When did you know that this was something you wanted to pursue in the long-term?
I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine when I realized that my passion aligned with a need, especially in my country, Saint Lucia. As I began to shadow different physicians and volunteer at health facilities, I gained more insight into the field. My desire to go into research came during my undergraduate program when I began to design experiments and work on my senior project. Through this research, I saw the value of scientific investigation and innovation in fighting diseases such as cancer.
Additionally, I believe that the most valuable resource of any nation is its people. Hence, healthier people (physically, mentally, spiritually), leads to a healthier society and a higher quality of life in general. This remains a major source of motivation for me.
Have you encountered any major challenges in your journey to this point?
As an international student, studying in the United States, I encountered many challenges. There are limited funding and scholarship opportunities for international students, especially for those of us pursuing medicine. Universities in the US also face many restrictions on the extent to which they can assist international students to matriculate through their medical programs. Despite the challenges and setbacks, I have seen God's provision and accomplished my goal of attaining my first degree.
What are some accomplishments that you are most proud of?
During my last two years of undergraduate study at Oral Roberts University (ORU) Oklahoma, USA, I conducted research by synthesizing an anticarcinogen drug in the lab and testing its cytotoxic effects on breast cancer cells vs. non-tumor cells. Due to many challenges, I was considering cutting my research short and presenting what I had thus far. However, with encouragement from my professors, I decided to continue and obtained favorable results towards the end of the process.
Upon completion of my cancer research, I was given the opportunity to present my findings at the 64th Pentasectional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Norman, Oklahoma. I was grateful for this opportunity, but even more fulfilling for me was serving as President of the ORU Chapter of the American Cancer Society. During my tenure as President, I spearheaded service-learning projects where we visited schools in Oklahoma, conducting exciting science projects which sparked students' interest in STEM. The most rewarding feeling for me was seeing young faces light-up, as they engaged in the learning and practice of science.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish?
In the future, I hope to be a part of the global movement pioneering research and breakthroughs towards better healthcare for all, using new technology and innovation in medicine.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced your journey? Tell us about them.
Dr. Joel Gaikwad and Dr. Lois Ablin, are two professors who were instrumental in mentoring me during undergraduate studies. Dr. Ablin later became my Research Advisor along with Dr. William Ranahan of Oral Roberts University. It was difficult being away from home for the first time and these professors made the journey easier, and took a keen interest in my well-being.
My parents, extended family, pastors and close friends have also played a significant role in supporting me thus far, for which I am eternally grateful.
The COVID 19 pandemic has had a major impact on young people. How have you been able to cope with the uncertain times brought about by the pandemic?
This COVID-19 pandemic has definitely brought uncertainty about what life will be like or whether or not things may ever return to 'normal.' As mentioned earlier, my trust in and relationship with God has kept me anchored in these tumultuous times. I believe that in life, one needs a source of strength greater than their own to endure such times.
One of my favorite scriptures is James 1:2: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I also believe that this crisis serves as an opportunity for our youth to grow, become more creative, and birth new ideas. You never know how much you have in you until you are tested. This, in addition to finding healthy stress-relieving activities such as dancing, reading, and exercise, has helped me cope during this pandemic.
What advice would you give to young people as they look to navigate past the COVID-19 era?
My advice would be to immerse yourself in environments and activities which allow you to learn and gain new experiences in the field. Pursue your passion. Find mentors, set goals, be diligent and remain persistent, in spite of the obstacles. Remember your "why" and let your purpose keep you going. Most importantly enjoy the journey!
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
Currently, I have taken some time to gain more professional experience in the field. I am looking forward to moving on to graduate school to earn my medical degree, and continuing with biomedical research.
I want to encourage everyone, especially young persons, to stay focused and hopeful during this time as "this too shall pass." Keep safe!