When the Hollifield family relocated from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas in 2001, Lauren and Carmen joined the Dawson community in the School's second year as fourth and second-grade students, respectively. Lauren graduated from the eighth grade in 2006 and Carmen graduated in 2008, and now 20 years after they first became Dawson Bears, both sisters have pursued advanced degrees and careers in medicine, crediting the Dawson experience with making a huge impact on their educational and professional paths.
Upon learning that one of their parents is an ophthalmologist and the other has a doctorate in public health, one may assume their career choices were predictable. But each Hollifield sister has her own unique journey in which she explored different opportunities and curiosities along the way.
When Lauren enrolled in college, she did not yet know the career path she wanted to pursue and decided that majoring in a language couldn’t hurt.
“Despite having the best mentors at home, I still explored all different fields (finance, law, business, etc.) and went to a liberal arts college, where I studied Spanish and biochemistry. Medicine ended up being the absolute best field for me, and I wouldn’t change anything about my journey,” she says.
Lauren earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Spanish and a minor in biochemistry from Loyola Marymount University, graduating Cum Laude and on the Dean’s List. The Spanish classes at Dawson with Señora Kristi Griffith laid the foundation of knowledge for her undergraduate studies, which she continues to use today with patients who are Spanish-speaking. Further, teacher Josh Keilty fostered her early curiosity in the sciences, and these experiences beyond the classroom while in college influenced her next steps.
Lauren became an emergency medical technician between her freshman and sophomore years of college. Combined with her Spanish major, she embarked upon medical mission trips to Nicaragua from 2012 to 2015, where she employed EMT skills at a rural clinic, transported 70,000 prenatal vitamins, and established an alternative break program called “Health Without Wealth: Sustaining Health in the Midst of Economic Injustice”. Those trips prompted her to ask, “Why do staggering healthcare disparities exist? And, more importantly, what can I do about it?” It became clear that the disparities she witnessed were not unique to Nicaragua, and this was the “call to arms” that led her to apply to medical school.
Lauren went to Drexel University College of Medicine and graduated in 2016 with a MS in biochemical and pharmacological principles. From there, she returned to Las Vegas to pursue her medical degree as part of the inaugural class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Medicine in 2017. Lauren, an Englestad Scholar, graduated from UNLV in May 2021 and was recently chosen to speak on behalf of UNLV’s School of Medicine to Vice President Kamala Harris, Governor Sandoval, Governor Sisolak, Senator Jackie Rosen, and Mayor Goodman. She was also elected by the student body as White Coat Ceremony speaker for the Class of 2022.
Other notable highlights from her college years include a research internship in orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University as an Nth Dimensions Scholar, and an internship with Body & Soul in North Las Vegas, in which she designed and implemented healthy food tasting opportunities for community members.
Next, Lauren will go to the University of Pennsylvania to begin her anesthesiology residency.
“I hope to be a physician that acknowledges patients not just as medical problems to be solved, but as human beings heavily influenced by sociological, economical, and religious underpinnings,” Lauren says. She continues to bring the critical-thinking skills she learned at Dawson to the operating room as an anesthesiologist, and the adaptability she learned became crucial not only during this worldwide pandemic but also after the 1 October shooting at the Route 91 Festival and other events that have shaken the medical community.
Carmen has wanted to be a doctor since she was a kid, and as a sophomore at Bishop Gorman High School, she wanted to be a pre-med student because she enjoyed dissecting animals in class. Throughout her life, she took opportunities to work alongside her parents, shadowing her dad in the operating room and working with her mom as a peer educator for various health promotion programs in the community. “I found passion in helping other people build healthy habits and lifestyles, and realized I wanted to be at the core of the practice of healing by becoming a doctor,” she says.
Carmen minored in Spanish to study abroad, living in San Sebastian, Spain during her sophomore year. Although the rigorous coursework and tight schedule of being a pre-med biology major required her to take on a heavy load each semester and summer, it was her best decision; she immersed herself in the culture, worked on her speaking skills in advanced classes, and taught a weekly English course at a local high school.
She continued to “juggle a million things at once” throughout college, seeking exposure to every possible career opportunity. Her previous jobs include working as a Wolf-caller at UNR to ask alumni for donations, a waitress, a bartender, a secretary, a sales associate at retail stores, and many nanny and tutor gigs. “Inevitably,” she says, “I used all of these experiences to confirm my passion in medicine and pursue the career of my dreams and become a doctor.”
Carmen graduated in 2016 from the University of Nevada, Reno with a Bachelor of Science in biology and minor in Spanish, and from there attended the University of California, San Diego Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program. In 2018, she moved back to Las Vegas to join Lauren and Lauren’s husband, Dr. Damien Medrano, at UNLV’s School of Medicine, where she is currently in her third year. She hopes to pursue a surgical specialty in the future and looks forward to finding out how her experiences in hospitals and clinics have influenced her path.
“We can all agree that Dawson was the best education we ever had,” says Carmen. “The supportive environment, intimate class sizes, and exceptional teaching all prepared me well for higher education and are the basis of my knowledge today.” She says Dawson was more difficult and demanding than high school and college, “but in a good way to where I felt appropriately challenged to live up to my potential.”
Lauren credits her fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Joseph Sayles, as someone who first emphasized the importance of honesty, integrity, and perseverance. “I was easily able to integrate into spaces with people from various backgrounds and experiences because I was accustomed to that at Dawson. Furthermore, the creative skills and curiosity fostered at Dawson have helped me significantly in undergrad, graduate and medical school,” she says.
Over the years, both Hollifield sisters have maintained close relationships with their former Dawson peers: Two of Lauren’s best friends from the School were in her wedding in 2019, and Carmen stays in touch with nearly everyone from her graduating class. They say the overnight trips are treasured experiences that brought them closer to their classmates and exposed them to different places in the country, and the overall school experience that afforded them lasting memories they hold closely today.
In separate interviews, each gave credit to current Head of School Roxanne Stansbury as an impactful teacher who laid the foundation for those key critical thinking and writing skills, one who became a mentor and role model. “I think she is an incredible leader and continues to foster the inclusive community at Alexander Dawson,” Lauren says.
Along with Ms. Stansbury, Carmen also credits Ms. Lopez. “As an adult, I have continually felt support, even though we may have just run into each other years ago at the grocery store or a community event. They were two of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and I hope they know what a great impact they’ve had on my life.”
To current Dawson students and future graduates, the Hollifield sisters shared the following messages:
“I wish someone would have told me to slow down, to cherish the moments you have right now, and stop rushing for the future because it will come. And everything will work out the way it is supposed to,” says Carmen. “Be true to yourself and always go after what you want. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
“Keep an open mind with your career choice, and also, keep an open mind to diverse experiences, backgrounds, and thoughts for the people you will meet,” adds Lauren.
By Shea Phillips
Marketing Communications & Events ManagerOriginally published in Dawson's Spring + Summer 2021 Petroglyph Magazine