WKU Grad, EMT finds passion for research
- Alicia Carter
- Wednesday, November 30th, 2022
The decision to come to Western Kentucky University was a “no-brainer” according to Tristan Skipworth, a senior from Scottsville who graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry on December 9.
“The biochemistry degree at WKU includes the most courses to prepare for the MCAT exam,” Skipworth explained. “I chose WKU because I knew it would give me the best undergraduate experience and set me up for success better than any university in the state.”
From a young age, Skipworth said he knew he wanted to go to medical school and become a physician.
“My grandmother is and will forever be the most influential person in my life, and I was destroyed when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her home was turned upside down. Seeing her fight the disease while developing a personal relationship with her physicians made me realize that I am meant to be a physician,” Skipworth said.
He was so sure of that calling, he jumpstarted his medical career during senior year of high school by obtaining an EMT license and beginning Emergency Medical Services work after his high school graduation.
“I worked with the Medical Center EMS in Bowling Green as well as Allen County Ambulance Service in Scottsville. My patients taught me countless lessons, but the most important is how to listen even in high stress situations,” Skipworth said.
Working as an EMT propelled Skipworth forward on his journey to becoming a physician. He said it provided invaluable clinical experiences that will remain with him for the rest of his career in medicine. Despite having opportunities to care for and interact with patients and their families during their most joyous occasions, such as delivering a new baby, and their most sorrowful ones, when loved ones pass away, he said something is still missing.
“While being an EMT provides me with patient interactions, it does not provide me with everything I am looking for in a career of medicine. I want to provide definitive care to my patients, develop lasting relationships with them, be the leader of the healthcare team and bring new and innovative treatments to my patients,” Skipworth said.
Skipworth gained vital skills in his field as an EMT while also working as a research assistant in the organic chemistry lab of Professor Rui Zhang from the WKU Department of Chemistry. He started in Dr. Zhang’s lab during his sophomore year and has since worked his way up to senior member. He said his research experiences at WKU provided a completely different side of academia; one he would not have had the privilege to experience anywhere else.
“The undergraduate research opportunities at WKU are countless, and the professors here truly want you to be involved,” Skipworth said.
The focus of Skipworth’s research is finding a more efficient catalyst for oxidation reactions.
“In nature, the Cytochrome P450 family of enzymes closely resembles the catalysts we make in the lab,” Skipworth said. “It’s important to study because these catalysts can be used to make pharmaceuticals and chemicals. They can remove pollutants better than catalysts currently used in industry.”
Participating in hands-on research as an undergraduate student and receiving encouragement from faculty and staff along the way has made a monumental impact on Skipworth’s academic success.
“Dr. Zhang has always pushed and encouraged me throughout my undergraduate career. He caused me to achieve much more than I thought was possible in four years while also broadening my horizons by showing me how interesting research can be,” Skipworth said.
Participating in undergraduate research helped Skipworth uncover his passion for research and encouraged him to shape future goals of practicing medicine within a large academic hospital, where research is part of the job.
“Prior to participating in research at WKU, I was interested in practicing medicine outside of a large academic hospital. Research is now very important to me, and I cannot currently see myself practicing outside of an academic hospital,” Skipworth said.
Encouragement from the faculty and staff in the WKU Department of Chemistry came in many forms and was a highlight of his WKU experience, according to Skipworth.
“Everyone in the department puts forth the effort to make their students feel at home. I have always felt welcomed to talk to my professors about course content, my future goals and life in general. Every time I see one of my professors in the hall, they make a point to interact,” Skipworth said.
After graduation, Skipworth plans to continue researching in Dr. Zhang’s lab though the spring semester. He will also continue his work as an EMT with the Medical Center and Allen County through the summer until he begins medical school at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine next fall.
For more information about majoring in biochemistry at WKU, visit www.wku.edu/chemistry.
#WKUGrad series: As part of our #WKUGrad series, articles on graduating students are shared in the weeks leading up to Fall Recognition Ceremonies. See all of their stories at https://www.wku.edu/news/articles/index.php?view=default&categoryid=799&multinewsid=187