Allegheny Graduate Serves Marginalized Through Pediatric Surgery
Driven by a passion for serving the marginalized, Marla A. Sacks ’13 has traveled to the Philippines, Ghana, Zambia, and Vietnam to perform critical pediatric surgery in low-resource areas while pursuing a general surgery residency at the State University of New York Downstate Health Sciences University.
“I am humbled each day to have the opportunity to be part of a team of surgeons who remove cancer, resuscitate the sick, and treat the injured,” says Sacks, who majored in physics and minored in psychology at Allegheny College.
Throughout her medical career, Sacks has continually relied upon her Allegheny education.
“Having a background in psychology is vital in every doctor’s toolbox to empathize and read patient concerns,” she says. “I think back to my first-year seminar and read several books from that period I still reference today when having difficult patient discussions.”
Sacks also refers to physics principles in the operating room to recall fluid flow or electrical circuits (for electrocautery) to stop bleeding in trauma patients.
While a student at Allegheny College, Sacks spent a summer as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Sacks attended St. George’s University School of Medicine on the island of Grenada and was accepted into the general surgery residency program at Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn. She dedicated two years to crucial pediatric surgery research at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital in California during her residency.
“Every patient presents a challenge, an opportunity for a cure or at least improvement in the disease,” she says. “While not every story has a happy ending or easy solution, I am grateful for the opportunity to help people feel better.”
Sacks has authored and published over two dozen academic, peer-reviewed manuscripts in various medical journals and has presented at surgical conferences in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia; while traveling abroad on surgery mission trips for those most in need.
She advises students to “find people who will support you in your journey to your dream. The path can be treacherous, but the journey is well-traveled. There are plenty of people you can reach out to help, and never forget why you wanted to enter the field in the first place.”