Psychology undergraduate aims to help underserved medical communities
Psi Chi honors society president will be going to medical school this fall
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Lara Eltze is a senior double major in psychology and biological sciences with a minor in Spanish. Born in Germany, she is fluent in German, English and Spanish. She is also the president of Psi Chi at ASU Tempe, the psychology honors society, and works as a research assistant in the Arizona Twin Project.
Eltze recently found out that she was accepted into medical school and will be studying in the southwest in the fall.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to go into medical school, so when I was in high school I shadowed a physician at the VA in Tucson. Her demeanor and patient presence were so impressive, and she had a way of making people feel at ease in a high-stress environment,” said Eltze, adding “I asked this doctor about how she handled it all, and she said it was from her degree in psychology!”
The route to medical school varies for every applicant, but the scientific rigor and people-centered research approach that psychology provides aligned closely to what Eltze was looking for in an academic experience.
In addition to her studies and research, Eltze volunteers with the Editha House, a compassionate health care facility that focuses on providing support for the most vulnerable of patients. The facility provides lodging and care for adult cancer and lung-transplant patients who live far away from the hospitals where they are receiving daily treatments.
In Arizona, over a half million people live over 30 minutes from a hospital location, and on top of that, many of those people do not have adequate transportation to and from these facilities. Additionally, more than 100,000 of those people are over the age of 65.
“We have a large population of people living in medically displaced areas that do not have adequate access to health care for debilitating conditions,” said Eltze, “I would like to research how we get well-funded clinics, residency positions and more doctors into those areas.”
An interest in stress
As a research assistant in the Arizona Twin Project, she started off coding subjective data and continued on to become a project lead for the on-call home visit team. She prepares families for home visits where researchers conduct interviews with families for the longitudinal twin study. Following the interviews, Eltze and her team go back to the lab and help to analyze the data, including salivary cortisol levels.
Eltze’s favorite part of the whole process is watching the data in action.
Her honors project is a case in point: She hypothesized and found that the patterning of children’s daily cortisol levels (an indicator of how the body’s stress response system is functioning) predicts their chronic pain levels one year later. Hers is the first research of this kind in children.
“Lara embodies qualities that make her an impactful leader, budding scientist and person. She is deeply curious and excited by ideas, tenacious, open-minded, collaborative and kind. I have seen her in action and have no doubt that she will use all of her considerable skills to make an impact on the practice of medicine,” said Mary Davis, professor of psychology and co-director of the Arizona Twin Project.
If it wasn’t clear from her busy schedule, Eltze thrives on stress and is looking forward to begin her journey into emergency room medicine.
“Ultimately, I want to have a profession where I’m able to make a difference in a high-pace, high-intensity setting,” said Eltze.