By Cathy Rainone
As a fifth grader growing up on Long Island, Melissa LoPresti was riveted by the stories her parents told about helping to save lives. Her father is an oncology pharmacist and her mother, a nurse. “I would listen to my parents speak in a medical jargon, wishing that I could understand them,” and help save “someone’s life one day,” says LoPresti, a senior at the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at City College.
In high school, a job at a nursing home sealed the deal. LoPresti set her sights on becoming a doctor. “I really started to love taking care of other people and just being responsible for someone other than myself and using my knowledge of science for other people’s benefit.”
A class valedictorian, LoPresti graduated from Floral Park Memorial High School in 2007 and entered the Sophie Davis School, a five-year integrated program that combines undergraduate education with two years of medical school. Students graduate with a B.S. from City College, then complete their M.D. at one of six participating medical schools. LoPresti will attend New York University in the fall.
“I knew I wanted to be a doctor, and I chose Sophie Davis because I wanted to get there in the most direct way possible,” says LoPresti, who is leaning toward becoming a primary care physician.
At City College, LoPresti, a biomedical studies major with a minor in psychology, earned a near perfect GPA of 3.99 and amassed a wealth of experience both at home and abroad. In August 2009, she went to Panama as part of the Global Medical Brigade to deliver medical care to three villages in remote areas of the country. “We went to areas where they didn’t have roads, let alone medical care,” says LoPresti. “Over a thousand patients came to the clinics that we set up. A lot of them had parasites from the water that they were drinking. It was such an eye-opener, seeing what we’re used to in America in comparison to what other people are used to.”
For two years she volunteered at Maimonides Medical Center in the Cardiac Services Department, where she worked with research nurses on collecting data from patients who had angioplasty procedures and gathered information for national trials. At Maimonides she also met Dr. Gary Stephens, who every two months travels to the Caribbean Heart Institute in Guyana with a medical team from Maimonides to perform life-saving surgeries on patients there. LoPresti accompanied Stephens to Guyana in March 2010 where she assisted with a coronary artery bypass and valve-replacement surgery.
“That was the first time I got to scrub in and I got to hold a beating human heart in my hand,” says LoPresti. “All our patients had successful outcomes.”
Last summer she spent six weeks in Istanbul, as part of the Mack Lipkin Broader Horizons Fellowship. She worked with an exercise physiologist at Marmara University Hospital on assessing how obesity and energy expenditure like weight loss and weight gain impact patients who had total knee-replacement surgeries.
“Most of the research I’ve done was in the neurology and cardiology field so I wanted to do something that was a bit more in public health,” says LoPresti. “I wanted to use what I learned in the Colin Powell Fellowship on public policy and a current public health problem like obesity and mesh the two together.”
But LoPresti has been just as active on campus and in the community. An Edward I. Koch Scholar in Public Service and a fellow in the Colin Powell Center at City College, she has tutored on campus for four years, taught GED courses at the Community Impact organization at Columbia University, conducted research in several labs on campus, has been involved in student clubs and has been a class representative for five years. How does she find the time for all these activities?
“Coffee, lots of coffee,” she jokes. “I’m the type of person that if I want to do something and I don’t have time, I will make time for it.”
LoPresti’s mentor at CCNY, Viera Lima, says she has never come across such a motivated student.
“Melissa demonstrates all the traits needed for a great future primary care physician,” wrote Lima, a clinical microbiologist and course coordinator at the Sophie Davis School in a letter of recommendation for LoPresti. “Melissa’s consistent outstanding academic standing, deep sense of morality, discipline, and hard work has given her a permanent place among the great students of CUNY Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, and has made her a shinning beacon to follow for incoming students or any students in any institution.”
Although LoPresti knew from a very young age that she wanted to become a doctor, at CCNY she also discovered another passion. “I love learning and I love sharing what I learned,” she says. “I would love if I became a professor at a medical school one day, but that would be years down the line.”