July 03, 2023

Money Matters Student Spotlight June 2023

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Laura Minton GartonAre there inequalities in the world that, once you notice them, won’t stop tugging on your heart? For Laura Minton Garton, this is women’s health imaging. Laura will never forget the awe she felt the first time she worked with a breast radiologist. She watched the doctor transform a 2D colorless image into an empathetic illustration of a living and breathing human, as she explained how the soul behind the screen had pain, fears, and emotions. Laura watched her eyes as they paused carefully in her methodical approach, deliberate to not overlook even a shadow, which could be her only clue to the life-altering malignancy lurking in the patient’s tangled tissue.

Laura and the radiologist sat with the patient, listened to her, alleviated her fears, and then provided a life-changing ultrasound-guided procedure. Breast cancer, one of the most common cancers diagnosed among women, can be prevented or treated if identified early enough. Laura believes it would be the most fulfilling privilege for her to be in a position to guide her patients through the tumultuous and daunting journey that approximately 1 in 8 women will experience in their lives.

Laura has been awarded the distinguished Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) Scholar Award, which is a merit-based award for women who are pursuing a doctoral-level degree. The award is given based on the “potential to make significant contributions in her field(s) of endeavor and to make a positive impact on society”. UAB Heersink School of Medicine students in the top 25% of their class can apply for the scholarship. Applicants complete an interview process and submit letters of recommendation. Laura is one of only 110 scholars within the US and Canada to receive the $20,000 award from the PEO Sisterhood.

Laura worked with a breast surgeon in Montgomery, Alabama, where 1 in 5 people live in poverty and often do not have access to preventative healthcare. When people are diagnosed with breast cancer, they often scour the internet to find hope through clinical trials. Unfortunately, the criteria that defines who is eligible to participate in a clinical trial can be difficult to read, which prevents access to care. Laura collaborated on a manuscript with MD Anderson Cancer Center with the purpose of characterizing readability of clinical trial criteria with a goal of increasing access to care. After meeting patients who had experienced pelvic floor trauma after childbirth, Laura wrote a chapter in a women’s interventional radiology textbook with the goal of increasing provider awareness to the importance of utilizing pelvic imaging to implement preventative treatment strategies. Under the mentorship of Dr. Jason Warram at UAB, Laura conducted NIH-funded breast cancer research to combine the diagnostic potential of MRI visualization with the precision of focused ultrasound. Laura was selected as a PIER scholar through the American College of Radiology, where she presented her published “Case in Point” to the National Medical Association.

When Laura began medical school, she noticed that despite men and women graduating from medical school at near equivalent rates, only 1/4 of radiologists in the US are women. Learning about this discrepancy bothered her. Women in medicine need to be promoted because when physician leaders do not represent their patient population, it can be difficult to truly understand the challenges their patients face. Laura and Dr. Cathy Chen founded Women in Radiology Education (WIRED) in 2020.

Laura organized a collaboration between WIRED and the Girls Inc STEM camp for teenage girls where radiologists and Laura demonstrated ultrasounds with fruit-filled jello phantoms, painted CT scan cartoons with anatomy lessons, and explained how to apply to college. Medical students are traditionally not required to rotate through radiology, so Laura developed an inaugural course at UAB with a curriculum through which medical students work with women in the UAB Radiology Department, culminating in a WIRED Conference. Laura organized a workshop with free professional headshots, worth $250 each, for any medical student, regardless of gender. She co-hosts a “WIRED Podcast'', where she interviews radiologists across the US. Outside of Alabama, Laura has facilitated expansion of WIRED chapters at medical schools in multiple US states, Puerto Rico, Algeria, Ecuador, and India. When Laura learned that women radiologists continue to receive less pay for equal work in many parts of the US, she felt frustrated again, so she wrote and published a manuscript that analyzed contributing factors to the gender pay gap in radiology with Dr. Kristin K. Porter. Laura co-hosted the first-ever nation-wide ACR Poetry Night. She received scholarships from the UAB Caduceus Club and the Alabama Academy of Radiology to advocate for legislative changes on Capitol Hill at the ACR 100th annual meeting in Washington DC.

After graduating from Gadsden City High School, Laura received a full-ride academic scholarship at Auburn University, where she graduated with a 4.0 GPA, summa cum laude with a degree in Biomedical Sciences, with the University Honors College Scholar Distinction and as a Dean’s Medalist. While at Auburn, Laura was awarded a scholarship to work under the mentorship of Dr. Douglas Goodwin, the chair of the Auburn Department of Biochemistry. Laura worked as a Resident Assistant for the maximum 3 years and 2 summers. She could never “clock out”, since she worked in the dormitory where she lived, where she worked through 24-hour call and crisis response, daily desk shifts, incidents throughout all hours of the night, and programming. On an international medical trip in Brazil, Laura volunteered at an outdoor women’s health station and provided eyeglasses, which solidified her desire to work globally.

Laura is the wife of Maximilian Garton, daughter of Dr. Maury and Amy Minton, and sister of David Minton. Laura is humbled to be the recipient of the award. “I am moved by the stories of sacrifice and courage of previous PEO Scholars. To be in a position to have the opportunity to bridge the past with the future and carry their legacies forward into my medical career feels both personal and powerful. I am grateful for Dr. Bonnie Embry for believing in me and nominating me. It will be my greatest honor to represent PEO as a breast radiologist, author, and hopefully a trailblazer in women’s health globally.”