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Meet COSAM Graduation Marshal Abigail Gauthier

Published: 04/20/2017

By: Lindsay Penny

For COSAM Graduation Marshal Abigail Gauthier, a double major in biomedical sciences and Spanish, meeting the healthcare needs of the Hispanic population is both a goal and passion.  

“My mom immigrated to the United States from Columbia when she was a little girl, so a lot of my family is bilingual, so it’s very important to me to be formally trained in the Spanish language and to explore that part of my heritage,” said Gauthier. “My family integrated pretty quickly, but I want to help people who may be struggling more than they did. I think that immigrants face a really big challenge in a monolingual healthcare system, and I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t realize or don’t talk about, and it’s really important. It’s a need that I could help alleviate if I worked really hard. Just being able to communicate with someone in their native language is really important to help them feel more comfortable, and because trust is such a huge part of medicine, it is important to me to make them feel as comfortable as possible.”

Gauthier, a Decatur native, will begin medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall where she will study pediatrics.

“I really love kids," said Gauthier, "and I think that they’re the future, so it’s very important to invest in the younger generation.”

For the past two years, Gauthier has worked in a lab within the College of Veterinary Medicine, where she has worked to develop gene therapy for Tay-Sachs disease, a rare, inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

“Tay-Sachs occurs when you have an accumulation of lipids in the brain because you are lacking a certain enzyme,” said Gauthier. “Gene therapy would allow the body to produce that enzyme and then have the ability to break down those lipids and have normal brain function. Tay-Sachs can develop in humans, cats and sheep, and we have used cats as a model organism so that it can be taken to clinical trials and help humans one day.”

As an undergraduate research assistant for the School of Nursing, Gauthier spent a summer conducting an empathy study where students were given “empathy bellies” to give the sensation of being pregnant.

“The idea was to see if using those in a classroom setting would help School of Nursing students be more empathetic to their patients, so we had the students take a survey before they put the suit on, and then they had to do simple activities like tying their shoes or reaching something on a high shelf; something that would be difficult for a pregnant patient,” said Gauthier. “The students then took another survey to see how their feelings or empathy toward pregnant women had changed.”

An involved student, Gauthier was part of the Student Government Association, multiple honor societies and a peer instructor within the Honors College. Of all the organizations, she says Project Uplift has made the greatest impact.

“Project Uplift is one of the best things I did while at Auburn,” said Gauthier. “It’s a way to pair up Auburn students with children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the community, so I have a little sister with Project Uplift. I get to hang out with her every week to read books, go to the park, do homework, and visit the humane society. It’s been a really good experience for me.”

With her COSAM education, Gauthier heads off to medical school feeling “very prepared.”

“Before I came to Auburn, I really wanted to do medicine, but I didn’t know if I was cut out for it,” said Gauthier. “In my four years in COSAM, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities, and I feel very prepared for the next chapter in my life, and I know that with hard work, I’m going to be successful.”

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