BSc student receives Dr Ross Wilson Portfolio Prize

Thursday 28 September 2023

Third year BSc (Honours) student Natalia Popko has been awarded the 2023 Dr Ross Wilson Portfolio Prize. The prize was established by Mrs Helen Wilson, mother of 2005 Medicine graduate Dr Ross Wilson, to recognise and reward medical students who share her son’s qualities of diligence, care, and compassion.

Miss Popko, who will graduate in November before beginning her clinical training at the University of Glasgow, was delighted to be recognised. Reflecting on her performance and experience as a medical student for her portfolio, she says, was essential to broadening her conception of what makes “a good doctor.”

The academic pressure that accompanies medical school can naturally cause students to focus on grades to the exclusion of all else, Miss Popko notes. However, while scientific knowledge is key to practicing safely, other skills such as stress management, self-reflection, and communication can be equally important to providing good care.

The importance of building a strong rapport with patients became clear to Miss Popko during her time as an oncology clinic volunteer in high school. Unable to provide direct medical care, Miss Popko focused on talking with patients, asking about their lives and listening attentively to their stories.  

While she herself enjoyed these interactions, she also noted the positive impact that simply being listened to and seen as more than their diagnosis seemed to have on patients. It was this experience and the desire to help relieve the suffering she witnessed at the clinic that inspired Miss Popko to pursue Medicine.

During her course, Miss Popko revisited oncology from an academic perspective in her dissertation. Working with supervisor Prof. David Harrison, she investigated the use of AI as a tool to analyse immune cell distribution patterns in lung cancer tissue. These patterns are considered a potential prognostic and immunotherapeutic aid. She is awed by the plethora of potential applications for immunotherapy and hopes to balance ongoing research in this area with clinical work after qualifying.

Although she is excited to begin her clinical training in Glasgow, Miss Popko says she will miss the small, close-knit, yet diverse community of St Andrews. “Living in such a small town means people learn to be very creative about how they use their time! All the bonfires, hangouts in the park, late-night walks to the beaches and potlucks with friends will always have a special place in my heart.”

Raised in small towns in Switzerland and her native Poland, she appreciates the familiar sense of community in St Andrews, alongside the added opportunity to connect with people from such a range of cultural backgrounds. These relationships exposed Miss Popko to new perspectives and ways of thinking, indirectly shaping her approach to both her academic studies and clinical practice.

Responding to news of the award, Miss Popko said: “I would like to express my gratitude and deepest appreciation to Mrs Helen Wilson for this prize – it is a great honour to be recognised as a person sharing the qualities of diligence, care, and compassion with her son, Dr Wilson. I feel inspired to continue reflecting on myself and identifying areas of improvement as a future medical professional. Thank you so much for this opportunity.”

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