Making new discoveries and enhancing and nurturing the well-being of others, biochemistry and molecular biology major, Catherine O'Byrne began making leaps and bounds as early as her sophomore year to prevent postpartum mortalities.
From the start, Catherine knew she wanted to be on the track for medical school to one-day practice pediatrics. After learning about pregnancies in other cultures during an anthropology course, her interest quickly shifted from children to maternal health.
"Coming into college I was set on pediatrics because I really love kids," said Catherine. "After taking an anthropology course I became more interested in focusing on the mother. I was surprised at how far we've come in maternal health, but how little we still know about it."
As a sophomore Catherine began working in the Arnold School of Public Health Women's Vascular Lab. There, she began studying how diet and exercise could help mitigate postpartum risks of women who have had adverse pregnancy outcomes such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.
This patient-centered research experience allowed Catherine to work with real patients, apply techniques she learned in the classroom and develop new skills. Through this research experience she was even able to become a certified phlebotomist.
"I looked for research opportunities outside of biochemistry and biology because I wanted a more hands-on experience. I feel like working in the lab has really prepared me for med school because I now have the skills to interact with patients," said Catherine. "When patients come in to the lab, we examine their carotid artery under an ultrasound machine and measure their pulse wave velocity. I'm also able to take their blood and apply what I know from my biochemistry studies to analyze the samples."
Catherine was awarded a Magellan Scholar Grant to continue her research focusing on the disparities among women with different races and ethnicities.
"I'm trying to see how a healthy diet and exercise can ultimately help minimize the gap. Based on our preliminary data right now, we found that the biggest positive changes in their heart health happen when they exercise during pregnancy and not much after they have already had the baby."
Beyond the lab
Catherine's research at South Carolina isn't just limited to maternal health. For her Honors Club senior thesis, she began researching homelessness and even developed a creative way to raise money for a local shelter.
"There is a pretty run down underground tunnel that students walk through every day. I decided to renovate it by turning it into an art walk. Organizations and students can reserve a square to decorate for a $50 donation. All the proceeds will be given to the homeless shelter that I volunteer at. Whether it's in health care or a shelter, I'm passionate about ensuring everyone has their basic needs taken care of."
At South Carolina, Catherine expanded her horizons outside of her major and created her own path. After she graduates she intends to go to medical school where she can continue utilizing the clinical and research skills developed through her classes and experiences.
"Since starting my journey at UofSC, I feel like I have pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and it's really paid off. I have become way more extroverted. It's all very exciting! A little frightening at first, but I feel like that's the best way to learn and grow."