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SUNY Downstate student profile: Sarah Ullrich

Shortly after Sarah Ullrich started her freshman year at SUNY Geneseo, she trained as an 18-year-old volunteer EMT with the Geneseo Fire Department. The ivy on Welles Hall turned burgundy, the upstate winter hit, and Sarah traveled the Finger Lakes region in an ambulance.

The emergencies involved “lots of snow,” narrow roads, farming accidents and accidents at the college. She enrolled at Geneseo to study bio chemistry and psychiatry, but took her own learning to another level.

“Before I was an EMT I didn’t think I wanted to do medicine,” Sarah said. “I thought I wanted to be a basic science researcher.”

She gravitated toward the human element of medicine, and entered SUNY Downstate after graduation. She’s now a fourth-year student at 25, applying for a General Surgery residency. Sarah’s research centers on breast cancer, particularly health disparities in cancer treatment and surgical outcomes. She plans to pursue a career in Surgical Oncology.

The disparity Sarah witnessed in Brooklyn during her clerkships launched her research with Dr. Gainosuke Sugiyama in the Department of Surgery. In one project, Sarah worked on the creation of a database of Downstate/Kings County patients in order to better understand the tumor biology and surgical treatment of Afro-Caribbean patients.

“We’re looking for differences in breast tumor biology,” she said. “How tumors present, what kind of surgery they get, whether it’s a breast-conserving surgery or a mastectomy. We’re also looking at disparities in reconstruction rates after mastectomy.”

A portion of alumni donations fund travel grants to help students present at national conferences. With the grants, Sarah presented at the Academic Surgical Congress twice, and once at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress in Chicago.

She received feedback from mentors from other institutions, networked with program directors, and learned from leaders in her field. “It’s something not all medical students get the chance to do,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without the alumni donations.”

After her experience as an EMT, Sarah considered becoming an ER doctor, but gravitates more toward working with patients long-term.

“I want to see patients throughout the course of their illness,” she said, to help them reach the highest level of recovery.

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