Helping and Healing

LAS student and neuroscience major Elizabeth Page, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and recipient of multiple scholarships, is approaching completion of the first stage in attaining her goal of a career in psychiatry. “My dream since high school has been to work with disorders of the brain,” she explained, relating that while still in high school she did a senior project looking at the physical effects of music on the brain.

Elizabeth Page

Elizabeth Page. Photo by Micki Leventhal

Fascinated by what she learned and possessing a passion for science, Page decided on a pre-med path for her undergraduate work and selected UIC because it provided an excellent yet affordable education that, she said, “has been a really great experience.”

Page credits her parents for creating a “culture of learning” in the home. “Mom taught us how to read and to be curious about the world. I learned to love science and understand the scientific method from my dad, who is a geologist,” she said. “There were lots of museum trips and on vacations we would always be stopping to examine rocks and look for fossils.”

Since 2013 Page has worked as research assistant in the Guidotti Schizophrenia Research Lab at the UIC College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, investigating the role of a newly discovered protein in schizophrenia pathogenesis. “This has been a great experience and I have come to really enjoy the bench research,” she said. “I think I am the only undergraduate in this lab. I had a lot of catching up to do when I first started, but once I understood what was going on, Dr. Guidotti worked with me to develop a project that we were both interested in. I’m particularly interested in schizophrenia because I have a family member who is affected by it, so that motivation really keeps me going. Dr. Guidotti also pushes me to do more. He has a lot of faith in me and I think we are getting some significant results.”

“This basic research really supports my learning curve in neuroscience, where the faculty and the members of the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience are truly exceptional,” Page said. “Aixa Alfonso was my cell biology professor and she’s been really supportive, always meeting with me and answering my hare-brained questions. My two main mentors in neuroscience are Jamie Roitman, who works in cognitive psych, and Mitch Roitman, who works in behavioral. They have both really opened up doors for me.

“I recently founded the Undergraduate Society for Neuroscience and Professor Mitch Roitman is serving as faculty advisor for that. Last year I did an independent project with Jamie about consciousness and memory and how it carries over, specifically in Alzheimer’s patients, and whether having dementia and losing your memories reduces your feeling of identity.”

Page, who will graduate in May 2015, is the 2014-15 recipient of the Adam Nathan Kuhn Memorial Scholarship and the Eugenia R. and Max M. Jacobson, MD Memorial Scholarship. She also received a UIC Access to Excellence Grant and a Hirsch Family Award.

“I was absolutely floored—ecstatic—when I received both the Kuhn and the Jacobson. Last year I was really struggling financially.” she said. “Financial aide only covers about one-third of my tuition and fees and I have required a great deal of assistance from extended family. These scholarships make all the difference. With the support of the Kuhns and Jacobsons, I can stay focused on school and learning with much less stress. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough!” Page emphasized that the financial assistance also makes it possible for her to do more volunteer work, which means that the benefit of scholarship support impacts and benefits many more people than just Page.

Page’s interest in music and the study of memory issues intersect at her volunteer work at Rush Hospital’s Geriatric Psychiatry Ward, where she and fellow singers and musicians engage with patients, performing songs from the early decades of the 20th century.

“Many of these patients cannot tell you their names, but when they hear these melodies and words they come alive, humming and moving around,” Page said. “People who cannot access memories of their childhood will nevertheless respond to and remember the music. Music therapy is a wonderful tool and profoundly moving to observe. As a physician, I hope to be an advocate for alternative healing therapies.

“We know that music affects your breathing and heartbeat and that various parts of the brain light up when hearing music. Smell is also hardwired into our memory centers in the same way, as are some of the senses in the visual system,” Page explained. “We can observe it but cannot yet explain how it works. These are some of the things that make neuroscience so compelling. I’m very grateful that my neuroscience curriculum requires me to take philosophy. Are emotions located in the brain? Where is consciousness? There is so much going on and we are still very far from having all the answers.”

As Page approaches completion of her degree, she is pondering a number of choices. “One thing I have decided is that I am going to take a gap year before plunging into the next decade or so of my education,” she said. “I have family involved with a women’s hospital in Manila, and I am planning on spending my gap year working there.

“I have become very interested in women’s issues and women’s health since taking a course in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program,” said Page, who noted that she strongly supports science majors taking humanities and social science course. “I have been very enriched by engaging with a broader view of the world. That is how I got involved in my current volunteer work with Rape Victim Advocates. I work as a medical advocate and assist rape survivors in the emergency room, helping to ensure that they get appropriate medical, legal, and counseling treatment. It is very important and a wonderful way to contribute to society,” Page concluded.

“Our son, Adam Nathan Kuhn, showed a true love of learning from a very early age,” said scholarship donor Joan Kuhn. “During his undergraduate years he decided to pursue a career in medicine but at age 22, during his second semester in medical school, he suddenly died. His family and friends decided to honor his memory by establishing a scholarship in his name. Since 1993, the fund has expanded, providing more than 50 scholarships to pre-med and medical students with great financial need. It is the family’s hope that Kuhn recipients will fulfill Adam’s hopes and dreams of proving good and safe medical care for people in need.”

“Marian and I are proud that Elizabeth has received one of the Eugenia R. and Max M. Jacobson, MD scholarship grants," said donor, alumnus, and LAS Board of Visitors member Fruman Jacobson (’70 history). "She combines excellent scholastic skills with great compassion for others. She gives generously of her time and talents: counseling high school students in the CPS and using her musical abilities to entertain geriatric patients in the psychiatry ward at Rush University Medical Center are but a few examples. She is destined to be a leader in the field of neuroscience and surely will make the world a better place, one life at a time. We are honored and humbled to be of assistance to Elizabeth."

“I am still deciding if I want to do the MD/PhD track; I have a passion for science, but also want to be in the world,” Page said. “I likely will go into either neurology or psychiatry with a specialization in women’s psychiatry. But I definitely want to work with people. That is why I went into medicine; I want to help people more than anything else.”