Eastern student aspires to work in aerospace medicine


Rob Le Cates

Anna Sipes, a senior biological sciences major, poses in the Buzzard Hall photo studio on Friday. After Eastern, Sipes wants to pursue medical to become a doctor in space.

Katja Benz, Student Government Reporter

Anna Sipes, a junior biology and Spanish double major, knew from a young age that she was meant to be a doctor for astronauts.   

Sipes knew that she wanted to be a doctor in middle school and an astronaut in high school. She claims that she has always been a naturally curious person who wanted to intersect her natural curiosity with wanting to help others.  

I feel like most science people are naturally curious people, [and] that curiosity can only lead to exploration and then later discovery,” Sipes said. “So, medicine was always kind of the route I wanted to go just because of my interest in science, but then also just helping other people, I think is a huge aspect of medicine. So since middle school, I wanted to be a doctor and I pursued that through high school I participated in some summer programs and started shadowing doctors and decided okay, this is definitely what I want to be doing. And then my senior year of high school, I discovered that doctors could also be astronauts. So that became part of the dream as well.” 

Even though Sipes is from Charleston, she has wanted to go to Eastern for years. She claims that Eastern has so many resources available to their students.  

She thinks that the resources available to her through Eastern got her to where she is today. She also credits her advisor, Sam Laingen, and the professor she is doing research with, Gary Bulla.  

While it is a smaller school, it has incredible opportunities for its pre-med and its science majors,” Sipes said. “I am here because of Sam Laingen, who is my pre-health professions advisor. She is absolutely incredible. And when I first visited Eastern when I was a senior in high school, I talked to Sam and I shared my goal with her of becoming a doctor. And she sat down with me she helped me come up with a plan of how to achieve that goal. And she’s been supportive all the way through. So, I cannot speak highly enough of the support of the biological sciences department and the people in it because they have just been absolutely amazing.” 

Over the summer, Sipes had the opportunity to go to Arizona and work in an oncology unit at a hospital. That experience showed Sipes how her skills as a Spanish speaker are vital to the healthcare system.  

“There are so many people that I’ve seen at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center or even down in Arizona at the oncology clinic, who just speak Spanish and it’s a challenge for them because a lot of doctors only speak English, especially here in a rural community in Illinois,” Sipes said. “So, I think it’s really important to be able to understand not only the language but also the culture of those patients, to be able to connect with them on a deeper level, to build that trust so that they trust you as their physician and that you can provide the best care possible to them.” 

After that experience, Sipes not only learned a lot about being a doctor, but she learned about herself and the type of doctor she is thinking of becoming.  

In order to be a doctor, interested students usually major in a science field, like biology or chemistry, take the correct pre-medicine sequence before taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). After taking the MCAT, students must apply to medical school, go through four years of that schooling before applying to a residency program in the student’s desired specialty, or career within medicine.  

Sipes would like to do her residency in emergency medicine or aerospace medicine, as of right now. Those with a career in aerospace medicine help pilots and astronauts stay healthy and safe in the environment that they are in.  

In order to be an astronaut, anyone who has a background in science, like Sipes, can apply when NASA opens its applications.  

Sipes also likes watching movies about space and the depths of the ocean. She thinks that they are making good efforts to make these movies as accurate as possible.  

“I think right now they’re making really big efforts to make them as accurate as possible which is awesome” Sipes said. “I know Mike Massimino, he was a former NASA astronaut, and he was on the board for the new Netflix series that came out a couple years ago called Away about going to Mars and so he helped try to make that show as realistic as possible from an astronautics standpoint, so I think that’s really awesome.” 


Katja Benz can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].