June 06, 2018
This morning, NASA astronaut and McGovern Medical School alumna Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor, ’01 launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as part of Expedition 56.
I was delighted when Dr. Auñón-Chancellor recently reached out to me and returned for a visit to McGovern Medical School. She offered to take one of our McGovern white coats on her trip to the ISS. What an honor for our school. We are so very proud that Dr. Auñón-Chancellor is “one of ours”—a graduate of this wonderful school.
Dr. Auñón-Chancellor will be featured in our upcoming McGovern Medical School annual report – here is a preview of that interview.
How did you choose McGovern Medical School?
I always say McGovern chose me. When I applied for medical school, I got few interviews, just two total – McGovern and UTMB. During my interview at McGovern, I remember being asked, ‘Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?’ I said, ‘I see myself at NASA.’ The folks at McGovern took a chance on me. Back then, there weren’t many pre-med engineers, and they saw my path forward was a little different; they chose to support me on that. It’s all worked out very well, and I’m grateful to McGovern. It’s inspired me, and it’s taught me to look at every aspect of someone I meet. I work with medical students today, and you never know where they will end up. Having gone to McGovern helped me achieve tremendous things in my career.
What do you remember most about McGovern Medical School?
I remember the faculty – they made such an impact, and I don’t know if they know that. They took a lot of time teaching you. Your learning curve is exponential as a medical student. The patient-centered approach was paramount at McGovern. I realized how good McGovern was at approaching the patients, and I really appreciate that and try to use that same method. Being a physician is one of the most human professions, and it requires finding a way to approach every patient from where they are.
What advice would you give current medical students?
Spend as much time as you can watching and emulating your instructors, take the good and toss away the bad, learn as much as you can. Medical school years are stressful, but learn as much as you can before going into residency. Enjoy your medical school career – these are friends you will keep for a lifetime. Take advantage of working in clinics that serve the uninsured, try new things, go on medical mission trips, and take electives at other institutions. Your specialty will find you. Focus on what you want, and it will happen.
What will your role be on the Expedition 56 crew?
Roles are the same for all astronauts on the mission. We are all trained equally on space walks, robotics, space systems, and science experiments, and we are assigned equally on these tasks throughout our six-month stay on the ISS. If there were a medical issue, they would come to me; each crew has two medical officers, although not necessarily a physician.
What are you most looking forward to about this mission?
The human research that will be performed. Some of our international partners are looking at cool experiments with chronic disease, microgravity, cell structure, and protein structure. Please remind UT scientists that NASA offers research opportunities related to space travel.
I’m very proud of Dr. Auñón-Chancellor and her inspiring work. Please join me in wishing her a safe journey and wonderful mission.