Elizabeth Davis ’15 describes herself as “an avid Googler.” So one day last winter, when she was thinking about summer opportunities, she searched for “St. Jude internship.”
And that’s where Davis has spent her summer: the Psychology Department of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she conducted research on children with a kind of brain tumor called craniopharyngioma. The tumors can cause vision changes, obesity, sleep dysfunction, and more.
“Psychology fits in because cancer is a hard thing to go through for both the patient and the family,” she said. “So psychology provides counseling, therapy, testing, and other psychological services to make sure the patient and the family are functioning where they should be and are also receiving medication, care, therapy—anything they would need.”
Davis, a psychology major who plans to go into medicine, has worked with 56 patients to see what kinds of cognitive impairment the tumor has caused. She tracked them as individuals—to help meet their needs—and collectively, to determine patterns in their symptoms. She’s also been able to shadow a physician three days a week.
The experience has been phenomenally rewarding, she said.
But there are days when it breaks her heart.
“I met a family whose child was diagnosed with a brain tumor in utero about halfway through the pregnancy,” Davis said. “I met them when the patient was 4 weeks old. They had to decide whether to treat it or give up. That was the day I went home and just cried. Nothing in your life really compares to what they’re going through.” (The couple decided to continue treatment.)
Ultimately, though, work at St. Jude “gets easier because the kids are so cute,” she said. “They will hug you and squeeze you and make you laugh. That makes it a lot easier.”
Davis is a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, and St. Jude is the beneficiary of their national fundraising. So working at St. Jude has given her the opportunity to see where the money goes and strengthened her belief in the sorority’s philanthropic efforts.
She said that has been “an unparalleled experience,” one for which her Butler education has prepared her well.
“The Psychology Department at Butler is really big on research, and I came in with a lot of practical skills—like knowing how to handle large volumes of data, knowing how to write a paper about your findings, knowing how to present,” she said. “The Undergraduate Research Conference really strengthened me in that area. So having those basic skills when you come into a research setting, everyone is like, ‘Of course you know how to do a statistical analysis.’ Butler really prepared me because I did know how to do that.”