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Class of 2016: Lulu Sun

Physician-scientist hopes to teach and inspire others

by Elizabethe Holland DurandoMay 18, 2016

Robert Boston

When Lulu Sun began medical school, she was on the shy side.

But Sun’s many experiences while a student in Washington University’s Medical Scientist Training Program pulled her out of her shell and toward a better understanding of who she is and what she’s capable of.

She will graduate this month with her medical and doctoral degrees. Yet surprisingly, her time at Washington University wasn’t all spent in the lab or the classroom. In fact, what she found outside of such venues helped define her just as much her schoolwork and research did.

“The extracurricular opportunities at WashU really helped me push past my comfort zones,” Sun said. “I was in the medical school musical for four years, starting as a chorus girl in my first year and eventually having my very own death scene — the pinnacle of my acting career! I was also a social chair for my medical school class and was surprised to find that I really enjoyed organizing events. I think I’m much better at speaking up and reaching out to people now.”

Sun grew up in Ontario, Canada, in the small city of St. Catharines, near Niagara Falls, an area best known for its ice wines, fruit and maple syrup.

“I had a pretty Canadian childhood, complete with figure skating, trudging to school in the snow, and Tim Hortons,” she recalled.

She earned her bachelor’s degree at McGill University in Montreal, where, she will tell you, she continued to trudge in the snow and eat at Tim Hortons. She decided she would become an MD/PhD while working with two physician-scientists at McGill: a pulmonologist studying innate host defense, and a specialist in HIV and immune deficiency. The two showed her how medical knowledge could inform basic research and vice versa, and they inspired her to become a physician-scientist.

Now, Sun is well on her way to inspiring others. In 2011, she earned the David F. Silbert Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for her work as a teaching assistant in a first-year immunology course at the School of Medicine. In 2014, she received the Shawn Hu and Angela Zeng Graduate Fellowship for research. The next year, she received the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Medical Science Fellow Award.

She also volunteered with the Contraceptive CHOICE Project for several years as a contraceptive counselor. She is proud to note that the project, which provided free contraception to nearly 10,000 women in the St. Louis area, resulted in a decrease in the rate of unintended pregnancies and in abortions.

“I enjoyed having a direct impact on the community in an important area of public health,” Sun said.

This summer, Sun will begin her residency in anatomic pathology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She is interested in pursuing gynecology or gastrointestinal health and, regarding research, is interested in investigating how the immune response to microbes affects host physiology.

All that time on the med school musical stage helped build her confidence because Sun also plans to be involved in medical education.

“I would love to be coursemaster of a pathology course some day,” she said.

She points to Erika Crouch, MD, PhD, a professor of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine, as someone she would like to model herself after. Crouch was the pathology coursemaster in Sun’s second year of medical school.

“Dr. Crouch was passionate, organized and fair, and the class definitely contributed to my decision to go into pathology,” Sun explained. “I like teaching because it’s a way to reach a lot of people at once, and the students you teach might go on to do great things because of what they’ve learned.”

Class Acts is a series that recognizes Washington University students who are changing the world through research, service and innovation.
See all Class Acts »

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.