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Laini Gaar, Integrative Biology Graduate

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Laini GaarLaini Gaar

The daughter of an anesthesiologist, Laini Gaar’s interest in science and medicine was encouraged from a very young age. But it wasn’t until a series of traumatic incidents in high school that she realized she was destined to become a doctor.

During her freshman year at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, doctors found a bone tumor in Laini’s leg. It was removed and, luckily, found to be non-cancerous. While waiting for her leg to heal, the avid dancer poured herself into her science classes, becoming particularly intrigued with biology. Then, during her junior year of high school, Laini’s best friend, Brooke, died of a heart attack at age 16. She had suffered from a congenital heart condition for years, but unbeknownst to her doctors, she also had a heart tumor. Shortly afterward, Laini’s favorite high school teacher was diagnosed with colon cancer and died the following year.

Laini graduated from high school in 2001 and came to UF with the goal of becoming a doctor. She started out as a zoology major with a pre-medicine track, but later switched to the university’s new integrative biology major, which allowed her to take courses in both zoology and botany. She became certified as a first responder for the Alachua County Fire Rescue Reserves program, working with paramedics on the scene of car accidents or helping out at community events, such as football games, where emergency personnel are asked to be on call.

Between her sophomore and junior years, an acquaintance in a dance class told Laini of a research opportunity in the College of Medicine. She took down the information and went and interviewed to become a research assistant in Pathology Professor Martha Campbell-Thompson’s lab researching colon cancer. She says the combined experience of volunteering for the Rescue Reserves and working in a research lab was the final step toward her commitment to becoming a doctor.

“I liked the combination of the more knowledge-based scholarly aspect and the clinical hands-on,” she says. “Having both combined steered me in the right direction towards medicine.” Laini graduated from UF summa cum laude in spring 2005 and is now in her first year of medical school at UF. She loves both the clinical and research aspects of the field and is unsure in which she ultimately end up.

“I like the interaction with people, so in that respect I see myself as more of a clinician,” she says. “But, at the same time, the thing I like about research is I have always seen myself as a creative person and there is a lot of room for creativity in research.”

Laini plans to get her MD, practice, and later consider getting a PhD and pursue research in her area of specialty. “I want to find what field fascinates me the most, find my niche, and then later do research in that field.”

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