Sept. 14, 2017
By Megan Golden
As a young girl in San Antonio, Texas, Katie Uhler spent time with her mother Martha, a radiologist, analyzing mammograms and other images at the radiology center. Uhler remembers sitting in the dark room and listening to her mother explain different components of the diagnostic studies, observing first-hand the impact a radiologist has on patients suffering from cancer.
An only child, Uhler grew up with aspirations of becoming a physician, but her focus slightly changed once she arrived at Notre Dame. The women’s soccer midfielder initially enrolled in Preprofessional Studies, but Martha advised her to consider other options.
“My mom’s a physician, and she told me, ‘If you’re going to come into this world, you need to have the business background,'” Uhler said. “That’s where I learned about Science-Business, which is somewhat of a new major at Notre Dame. Not many people know about it. It offers a great variety of courses to look into business a little bit and gain a basic understanding of how it works.”
Uhler combined her family background with her mother’s advice, and soon enough, she was a declared Science-Business major. Uhler added a minor in Science, Technology, and Values to further enhance her studies.
“It’s a combination of ethics and philosophy and looks at conflicts that arise when science meets society,” she said.
During Uhler’s junior year, her cell biology professor offered her students the opportunity to receive extra credit if they attended a lecture about a summer program at MD Anderson, a well-known cancer research institution. While the bonus points certainly served as an incentive to go, Uhler was familiar with MD Anderson, which is based in Houston, Texas, and did have interest in pursuing a career in the medical field.
“Yep, sign me up. I’ll go,” Uhler said. “As [the MD Anderson representative] started explaining what the program was about, the education you receive and the experience you get, I became very interested and applied for it. It’s a joint MD Anderson and Notre Dame program, so I applied through Notre Dame.
“I had a keen interest in breast cancer in particular, so that’s why I applied to MD Anderson to study triple negative breast cancer.”
Sure enough, Uhler was accepted into the eight-week program at MD Anderson and had an incredible summer of learning and shadowing doctors.
On a typical day, Uhler arrived at the lab at 9 a.m. and cultured cells for experiments. Most days, she ran experiments, while on other days, she worked to analyze the experiments’ data.
“I had multiple breast cancer cell lines that I would conduct different experiments on,” she said. “Then, I kind of planned my day out based on what experiments I would run. I did a variety, and I spent a lot of time running experiments. I learned the power of statistics and how you can use numbers to support what you want to say.
“The basic lab courses I took at Notre Dame prepared me for the lab techniques I needed to use in lab. I was really well set up. It was awesome to see things I learned in physiology, in medical microbiology; they came to life in the lab.”
One particular day, Uhler had the opportunity to shadow the principal investigator of her lab, Dr. Powel Brown, M.D., Ph.D., who, in addition to conducting research, practices medicine as a medical oncologist.
“There were three of us undergrads there this summer, and he had each of us go into clinic with him for one day. He specializes in breast cancer. It was an awesome experience for me,” Uhler said. “He said it’s quite a privilege to be treating these patients who come to him in life or death situations, and he gets to help them. I got to see patients at all stages of the process — just beginning chemo, in the middle of chemo, about to end chemo and go into remission, and unfortunately, those considering going into hospice; the positives and also the negatives.
“It was very moving. I really liked the patient population; they’re so motivated to get better, and they’re so grateful for what you’re doing. It felt like a very fulfilling experience.”
After spending the past three summers on Notre Dame’s campus, Uhler said her internship helped her discover a new appreciation for college life and living among close friends. It won’t be long before Uhler embarks on medical school, and ultimately, a career in the medical field.
“It was my first summer in the working world,” she said. “I’m really enjoying being back with friends on campus and the student life. I’m trying to soak up as much of that as possible because I know what the working world looks like.
“I saw how big of an impact my career can have on people’s lives. Now I’m just trying to learn as much information as possible so I can help my future patients, my future medical practice.”
Uhler, who scored her first career goal in the final minute of Notre Dame’s 4-0 win over Ball State, is in the midst of her senior season with the Irish.
“The senior class is a big class, but we have a lot to offer,” Uhler said. “We’re very dynamic, we come from a lot of different backgrounds but all get along very well and are motivated to take this team to the next level.
“We saw last year what we are capable of doing, winning the ACC regular-season championship, and I think this team can go even beyond that. We have great freshmen that bring a fresh energy and are helping to raise the level. We have higher aspirations.”
Uhler and the Irish women’s soccer team return to action at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener against No. 4 Clemson.
Megan Golden, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since August of 2016. In her role, she coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer and cross country/track and field programs. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Golden is a 2014 graduate of Saint Mary’s College and former Irish women’s basketball manager. Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, she worked in public relations with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.