Where Are They Now: Allison Kang’s Experience Paves the Way for Medical School

By Kate McDermott; photos by Richard Frederickson
Photo of Allison Kang smiling while working with a scientific instrument in the laboratory

Former intern Allison Kang

Like many Werner H. Kirsten student interns, Allison Kang didn’t know what to expect when she made the transition from the carefully managed environment of her high school science labs to a professional cancer lab at one of the nation’s premier research facilities.

Kang had just finished her junior year at Urbana High School when she began working in the Neutrophil Monitoring Laboratory under Debbie Long Priel and Doug Kuhns, Ph.D. And it didn’t take long for her to realize that there were big differences between her school’s A.P. Biology lab and a working scientific research lab.

Although Kang’s mentors were always available and willing to help her, they didn’t stand over her shoulder and watch her work. “Debbie and Doug gave me the independence to discover things on my own and gave me room to grow,” Kang says. “The research was really challenging and really pushed me. I learned a lot of things we weren’t covering in school.”

That’s exactly what Long Priel hoped Kang would say. “Our goal is to try to help our interns become independent thinkers by giving them the tools they need while still allowing them to grow by working through their own problem solving,” she says.

By the time Kang started her freshman year at the University of Maryland College Park, she had completed three internships and a poster under the tutelage of Long Priel and Kuhns. During that time, she expanded her research on reactive oxygen species generation in HL-60 cells, keeping copious notes on her experiments, data, and observations all the while. That quality record-keeping was then shared with the interns who followed her.

“Allison was just an amazing student. She was eager to learn and apply what she’d learned in school,” Long Priel says. “Every time she came to me, she had a plan. She was really an independent thinker, and that skill is so important for those who want to work in science.”

Kang says her experience at NCI prepared her well for the research positions she held while an undergraduate student. “I learned how a true research lab operates, what research work looks like, and how the research pipeline functions,” she says.

Now a college graduate with a degree in biology, Kang is working full-time as a medical scribe and applying to medical school. She believes that becoming a doctor will let her apply the lessons she learned in the lab to the challenges—and opportunities—of patient healthcare.

“Early on in life, I always thought I might want to go to medical school,” she says. “Because of my internships, I discovered that medicine would allow me to achieve my desire to do scientific work in real life while also seeing the impact of my work on people.”

Long Priel believes that Kang’s work ethic, curiosity, and scientific mind will serve her well in a career in medicine.

“Those skills will translate nicely in the medical community,” she says. “Although Allison will always be able to consult with her peers, she will also have to do a lot of independent thinking, and it is clear she is well prepared for that.”