Junior Renee Romagnoli from Rockland County, New York, has allowed for each one of her fundamental experiences during her college career to be the foundation for her career path.
She entered Villanova as a Biology major, and she is interested in pursuing a minor in psychology. Her initial interest in Biology began when she was in eighth grade, and she took her first biology course. Though the course was challenging, she discovered her love for the body and how each system is so dynamic. Her aunt, a biology teacher, also pushed her in the direction of biology as Renee discovered that she wanted to become a doctor. Also, as a freshman, her Gen Bio II professor encouraged her to apply for the five year BS/MS program, which will allow her to also get a masters in biology. Next semester, she will begin developing her own project for her thesis.
As a part of her masters program, she has been working in Dr. Louise Russo’s anatomy and physiology lab since her freshman year. “We use the mouse model and we look primarily at different hormones that may affect uterine growth. It was a little intimidating to jump into research at first since I had no experience, and Dr. Russo immediately started me off with surgeries on live mice. I thought, I am a freshman, how am I supposed to do all of these things, am I going to pass out? In high school, I had only done one dissection on a frog and my partner ended up doing that work. But because of my work in the lab, I can now perform these surgeries on my own. I never thought that I would be able to handle that. It was the right push at the right time, since I was hesitant beforehand. The way Dr. Russo has her lab planned out is that you jump in and learn as you go. It’s more hands-on which I like. I now hope to keep pursuing the realm of anatomy and physiology but more in the realm of pediatrics in the future.”
On campus, she is a part of the Pre-Med Club, the Pre-Health Honors Society, and the Biology Honors Society, Tri Beta. She also serves as one of the co-presidents for MAPS, the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students, and the VP of Academic Excellence for her sorority Alpha Gamma Delta.
Being a part of MAPS has been one of the hallmarks of her Villanova career. “I started off as a regular member freshman year, and then they had board positions opening up, so I decided to apply for secretary. At the time, the two presidents were seniors, and they took me under their wing and guided me through the whole process as they were applying to medical school. I learned a ton from them without even knowing it. Then they recommended that I become president this year, and I have been doing that with another senior. For the position we try to relay information for activities on and off campus for minority students interested in health careers, so we work a lot with PCOM, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. I had never thought about being a president of a club since I had never seen myself as a good public speaker or much of a leader, even though I have had leadership positions, but they were all behind the scenes type of positions. But when the seniors in the club saw those characteristics in me that would be suitable to be a president, it made me feel more sure of myself and gave me a boost of confidence, reassuring me that I can do this. I now know I can handle more things than I give myself credit for.”
As a member of MAPS, she has been able to visit PCOM’s cadaver lab and their simulation lab, which allowed them to practice performing remote surgery. Last year they also had their first Melanin in Medicine Conference. For the conference, they invited five medical students from PCOM and Dr. Higginbotham, the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School. Currently, they are trying to host another student panel with people from Thomas Jefferson.
Renee has also been able to expand her interests in the medical field during each of her summers. When she was a freshman, she thought that along with Biology, she wanted to also pursue a major in Chemistry. So, she applied and received a Chemistry-oriented internship at SGS, a company that performs product testing. They placed her in the Organic Chemistry lab even though she had never taken a course in Organic Chemistry beforehand.
Although, that experience helped her decide what she did want to do. “I was extremely lost and confused the whole time in the Organic Chemistry lab, and I realized that I did not want to be stuck in a research lab alone as part of my future career. I would much rather do collaborative research work.”
Because of that realization, she decided to supplement her time with what she did want to pursue, and she decided to volunteer at NYAC Hospital. She had applied online to read to patients and their families before and after their treatment, but when she arrived at the hospital, they decided to place her in the Endoscopy unit, and then the Pathology unit.
She recalls that, “At the lab, I was able to see all of this fresh tissue that had just come out of the operating room, which was really cool. It was not what I thought I would be doing at all, but it helped me realize how much I enjoyed learning about that part of medicine. I worked with the Histology Technician. As the samples would come in, like hip bones or knee bones from different surgeries or a uterus from a hysterectomy or even amputations, I knew I had to prepare myself for those sights and help her as they process all of the tissues so they can make microscope slides. I got so much out of that experience, and I didn’t think I would enjoy that side of the medical field so much, all of the blood and guts, but that comes with being a doctor, and it helped me get over my fear of that and also solidify that this is what I want to do. I continued with them last summer, and every time I am home for breaks, I go back to volunteer. Each new time I come, they start to let me do more. Like they let me separate breast tissue, which I am not trained for, but they trusted me enough to do it.”
This past summer, along with NYAC, she also shadowed at Tufts and MGH in Boston in the NICU. “I absolutely loved it, just being around the babies all day was great. I just loved what the doctors were doing everyday. The health professionals there also told me that I had an uncommon personality that would be suitable for that profession, which I had never thought of as a strength of mine, but it was really great to hear them say that about me, it gave me confidence in my career choice.”
As for her post-graduation plans, she will stay at Villanova for an extra year to complete her research for her masters degree. After that she plans on applying to medical school, for which she would love to go back home to New York or be in the New Jersey area. Right now, she plans on going into neonatology.
To other Villanovans, she had a few pieces of advice. “For me, coming from high school, I was super involved in a lot of different clubs, and then I got here and it was a shellshock seeing how involved everybody is. It made me a little overwhelmed, wondering how I could find my place in all of these different organizations and not knowing what would be best for me. I would say try as many as you can, and it’s okay to not like something or to try something you that you never thought you would be interested in. Like for me going out for MAPS, I didn’t know if it would be a good fit for me, but I decided to see how it would go and now I’m one of the presidents of it, so you really never know what could lead you in the right direction. Also, I didn’t know that coming from a huge family and to a new school, that you would feel alone sometimes, and being involved in those clubs and taking on leadership position, makes you feel like your presence is more important and you can get your voice heard, so I thought that was helpful for me in the transition to establish my place at Villanova.”