A natural interest in scientific research and a desire to be a physician are leading an Edmond native into a prestigious degree program.

Lauren Ritterhouse has been accepted into the combined medical degree and doctorate program at the University of Oklahoma where she is completing her studies with a major in zoology/biomedical sciences and minors in math and chemistry.

The program makes it possible for Ritterhouse to receive a medical school degree and graduate school degree at the same time.

It was founded by the Presbyterian Health Foundation in Oklahoma City with a $5 million grant, and with it comes a tuition waiver and a $20,000 stipend per year.

Following the completion of the combined degree, Ritterhouse will begin her residency.

“Each year the program takes five to eight people,” Ritterhouse said, “and it usually takes seven to eight years to finish.”

The program has been set up in order to bridge the gap between physicians and scientists.

“They want more physician/scientists to do more research in the lab and then to bridge the gap with more scientists/physicians in the clinic,” Ritterhouse said.

Research will be done at OU Health Sciences Center or the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

Ritterhouse will begin the program May 30 by participating in several labs including gynecologic/oncology on ovarian cancer while doing her research at the Health Sciences Center.

“Next year I will do a different rotation,” she said.

Ritterhouse is doing independent research for her honors thesis in the zoology lab under professor Richard Broughton.

“She has been great,” Broughton said. “She takes a lot of initiative, and can read a complicated journal article and pick up the important concepts quickly, where most students would have to have detailed discussion.

“She is quick to pick the nuances and complexities of molecular biology. She did a great project where she isolated DNA and did DNA sequencing. The sequences were used in a study of molecular evolution.”

Upon being accepted to the program, Ritterhouse visited several researchers and labs then discussed with the director of the degree program what interests her.

“I always had a strong science interest in high school,” she said.

That interest was expanded when Ritterhouse had the opportunity to travel with a group of U.S. doctors and college students to Africa through an organization called the International Youth Leadership Forum.

“Three summers ago I traveled to Africa with them, and at that time I did a lot of work with AIDS patients in Africa,” Ritterhouse said. “This is what made me want to go into the field of research.”

In addition to cancer research, Ritterhouse is interested in the study of infectious diseases as well as AIDS and plans research rotations in each of these areas.

“I haven’t got it narrowed down yet, but I have plenty of time to decide,” she said.

Ritterhouse is a graduate of Edmond Memorial High School where she was a National Merit Scholar. She is the daughter of Terri Ritterhouse of Edmond and Ed Ritterhouse, formerly of Edmond, now of Omaha, Neb.

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