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Young Leaders Spotlight Series: Meredith Haak

Meredith Haak

Meredith's personal journey with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease similar to Lupus, inspired them to focus their research on Lupus. Witnessing the struggle to obtain a diagnosis and the limited treatment options, she became deeply motivated to make a difference in the lives of those affected by autoimmune diseases.

With optimism for the future, she believes that advancements in technology and medical knowledge will lead to significant breakthroughs in Lupus research. She offers valuable advice to aspiring researchers, encouraging them to embrace opportunities and learn on the job.

In this blog post, we'll explore Meredith's inspiring journey which combines personal experiences, research dedication, and a commitment to medicine to empower and uplift Lupus patients.

Question: What inspired you to surround your research/internship around Lupus?

Answer: My inspiration for focusing my research around Lupus was my own diagnosis with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that shares a lot of similarities with Lupus. From my experience, half of the battle is getting diagnosed which can take years and countless doctor's visits. The other half of the battle is how to cope with the disease, make lifestyle changes, and find a way to live with an autoimmune disease without letting it control your life. After my diagnosis, I was surprised to find out how much is still unknown about autoimmune diseases and how limited the treatment options are. For this reason, I'm deeply motivated to do research on autoimmune diseases like Lupus to make a difference in the lives of those afflicted and because I have skin in the game.

Question: What inspired you to go into Medicine?

Answer: I always felt a pull towards the healthcare field, but I didn't know what I wanted to do until halfway through college. My decision to pursue medicine came from two places. First, I was interning at a startup company and I quickly realized I didn't want to look at an excel spreadsheet every day for my job. Second, at that point I had been dealing with a lot of health problems from my autoimmune disease but still had not received a diagnosis, so I became increasingly curious and interested in medicine and research.

Question: Who inspires you as a leader? It can be in Medicine, life in general, or both.

Answer: My mentor from my first research team inspires me as a leader. He had lived his life with a blood disorder and used it as inspiration for his research project that had the utility to help people suffering from similar blood disorders. He didn't let his diagnosis hold him back but rather used it as motivation for his career and research endeavors. He inspires me to look on the bright side and leverage my own diagnosis to help others.

Question: What has been the main challenge for you since being in Med School? As well as in research?

Answer: Medical school can be all-consuming at times, and the main challenge for me has been striking that balance between staying on top of my schoolwork and carving out time for self-care whether that be exercise, hanging out with my fiancé and friends, taking naps, or doing the hobbies that bring me joy. The most challenging part about research in general is getting a project started and finishing a project.

Question: What keeps you motivated to continue your research and pursue medicine?

Answer: There is nothing more motivating than doing research on a family of diseases that affects you personally or someone you care about. There is still so much to discover about rheumatic diseases, and as technology improves and medicine advances, I feel strongly that we will make huge leaps in the research and clinical care for patients with lupus within my lifetime. That excites me and makes me feel hopeful for the future.

Question: What is one piece of advice you have for someone who wants to begin their own research and start internships?

Answer: Don't be afraid to cold email people! Start with grad students and post-docs working on projects you find interesting and see where that gets you. Don't count out opportunities because you feel you don't have the skillset-- good mentors just want enthusiastic and hard-working assistants. They can always teach you what you need to know on the job.

Question: What are some activities/hobbies you enjoy doing?

Answer: In my free time, I love to play soccer, exercise, knit, read, and play with my boxer, Frazier.

Question: What do you love most about working in medicine?

Answer: I think medicine is so cool. It's interesting, rewarding, and never boring. To me, the best part is being able to heal patients and give them the answers they have been seeking.

Question: What are some goals/what are you looking to accomplish within the next 5 years?

Answer: I hope to graduate from medical school and match in a good residency. By five years, I hope I will have pushed the needle forward in my research on Lupus. I'm particularly passionate about women's health and global health, so I plan for those themes to be prominent pillars in my future practice. Lastly, my goal is to be very knowledgeable on rheumatic diseases regardless of the specialty I end up going into because I know how much of a difference it would have made for me if one of the ten doctors I saw prior to my diagnosis had been able to refer me to a rheumatologist.

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