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With SPURS experience, Brittany Austin ’21 gains a window into medicine

A doctor with Prisma Health performs an operation. Photo: Prisma Health.

Furman senior Brittany Austin remembers the exact moment she realized medicine could be a suitable career for her.

“The apostle at my church told me, ‘You’re going to be a doctor one day,’” she recalled from the  summer before she would enter high school. It was then that she started attending medical summer camps. “Everyone at church started calling me doctor.”

What sealed her decision was the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research in Surgery (SPURS) summer research study program, which she took part in the past two summers.

“It helped me define my commitment to medicine,” said Austin, who is majoring in religion on a premed track.

Brittany Austin ’21.

The SPURS program at Prisma Health – Upstate Department of Surgery offers undergraduate and medical students an opportunity to spend eight weeks in the summer in a research study program. Program participants take part in specific research studies under the mentoring of department surgeons and surgery residents. Many of the research projects will lead to publication.

“SPURS provides students a good exposure to various aspects of the health care environment. They interact with medical students, residents, physician extenders, and faculty. Students can observe in several clinical settings, including the operating room and the office, across several surgical specialties,” said Dr. Jeremy Warren, associate professor of surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville and director of research for the surgery department Prisma Health – Upstate.

“Students get a window into how research is performed in a clinical environment, which is an experience many will not have again until medical school or residency.”

Surgical instruments. Photo: Prisma Health.

Austin connected with the SPURS program through Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health. Established in 2016, IACH grew out of the partnership Furman had established with Prisma Health and community organizations to positively impact Greenville’s citizens’ health.

Approximately one-third of Furman students pursue careers in health care, said Susan Ybarra, Executive Director of the IACH. The IACH connects those students to health-related internships, research and mentorship opportunities in order to help them explore all aspects of the medical field. These experiences allow students to make an informed decision about their future career path and be more competitive when applying for graduate school, Ybarra said.

“We highly value Furman’s position as the primary undergraduate partner with Prisma as it provides students access to experiences that would not otherwise be available,” she said.

While COVID-19 restrictions reduced the number of surgeries SPURS participants were able to observe this summer, Austin said she still benefited from the experience.

“I love medicine, and I want to become a doctor, so seeing all the options that are out there has been really helpful,” Austin said.

Austin said she’s thinking about becoming a pediatric oncologist because she likes surgery and working with children.

“Surgery appeals to me because if someone has a condition, you can fix it, and in a few days, they’ll feel better than they did before.”

Participating in SPURS has only increased Austin’s attraction to medicine.

“(SPURS) has been inspiring to me,” she said. “I love the idea of medicine. I love the idea of helping people through medicine, and the appeal of oncology is that you can be there in some of their worst moments and help them through it.”



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