2013 University Medalist headed to Yale

Nicole Sitkin, Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior '13

Nicole Sitkin and her partner, Mariko Zelin

Nicole Sitkin (L), with her partner, Mariko Zelin.

05/16/14

It’s a big month for 2013 University Medalist Nicole Sitkin: She is wrapping up her gap-year job at UC Davis Medical Center, presenting as an invited speaker at the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society, planning for a summer of travel to New Zealand and Israel, and has just accepted an offer from Yale to attend medical school there in the fall.

“I feel like I’m walking on air,” Sitkin said.

An active member of a stem-cell research lab and an advocate for health equity, Sitkin knows Yale will be the perfect next step after Davis.

“It will be such a great place to grow and explore,” she says. “Their ethos is really about flexibility—they treat students as adults and say ‘we think you are going to do amazing things—how can we help?’”

That will be right in step with Sitkin’s track record so far: First as an undergraduate and now working at the university's School of Medicine, Sitkin is already making contributions to medical research and helping address disparities in health care, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations.

“I want to explore scientific puzzles, but also to challenge health disparities, revealing more about their causes and potential solutions,” she said.

In the year since earning her bachelor's degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior from UC Davis, Sitkin has worked as a scientific writer in the UC Davis Department of Surgery’s Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory, co-authoring book chapters on global surgery, writing grants for stem cell therapies and even lecturing to surgical research fellows on how to write for research.

“I have really appreciated hving a break between undergrad and medical school,” she said. “Work helps develop a whole different skill set in terms of dealing with people, navigating personalities and politics. My department is very warm and open, and it has been a great environment in which to learn.”

Sitkin’s ultimate goal is to be a clinician-researcher and study the interaction of basic biology and human experience, and she credits her mentors for helping her find this path.

“The thing that really stands out for me about UC Davis is the mentorship and collaboration that goes on. People are willing to take the time to teach you if you want to take the time to learn,” Sitkin said.

Diana Farmer, Chair of the Department of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief of the Children’s Hospital, and Edward Callahan, Associate Dean of Academic Personnel and Chair of the LGBT Medical Task Force, have been two standout personal mentors for Sitkin.

“They are both amazing individuals, and have helped guide me in different ways. I have no doubt they are the ‘forever’ sort of mentors,” she said.

"She is superlative—a great reflection of Davis," said Farmer. At Farmer's invitation, Sitkin attends weekly Grand Rounds, educational forums for faculty, medical residents and students, and community physicians.

Continuing an involvement she began as an undergraduate, Sitkin is also a member of the health system’s LGBT Medical Task Force.

Working with Edward Callahan, she has co-authored manuscripts on related topics, including UC Davis’ debut as the first academic health center to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into the electronic health record. Sitkin also founded and coordinates a new internship for UC Davis undergraduates interested in sexual orientation and gender identity in the context of healthcare.

As she works her final shifts at UCDMC this week, Sitkin says she will miss Davis but is looking forward to a break. A citizen of both the U.S. and New Zealand, Sitkin will be taking her partner, another UC Davis alum currently working for the Department of Pathology, to Auckland to visit that side of her family for the first time.

“I used to always say I would take a break after my next big project, but I have come to realize that I am a person who likes to be busy. I am looking forward to the challenge of only relaxing for the next six weeks!”