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Medical student overcomes fear of needles to become doctor

Closeup of Lars Neuenschwander
In 2019, Neuenschwander participated in a medical mission trip in Guatemala through the organization, Hearts in Motion.

Lars Neuenschwander has been a Coug from the day he took his first breath.

A WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine student, Neuenschwander was born at Pullman Memorial Hospital. Eighteen years later, he returned to attend Washington State University. In 2019, he achieved a double degree in Spanish and Bioengineering and will graduate from the College of Medicine in 2024.

However, a medical profession was not always part of Neuenschwander’s plans. In fact, he had to overcome a piercing fear to pursue medicine.

“I didn’t grow up with a passion for medicine or think a medical career was for me,” he said. “In fact, I had a terrible phobia of needles and wondered if I could get past it.”

However, encouraged by his parents who always set an example for exploring life, Neuenschwander kept an open mind about his future.

“My parents actually met each other during a typhoon on a ferry from Shanghai to Hong Kong,” he said. “Their experiences, after years of travel and life abroad, inspired me to stay curious.”

Neuenschwander knew certain attributes were essential to the career he would choose. He was committed to making a positive impact by helping others. Though still apprehensive about his fears, Neuenschwander began to consider a medical profession and started volunteering for medical organizations. One of those opportunities, at a hospital in Costa Rica, propelled him into a passion for medicine.

Life-changing inspiration

Closeup of Lars Neuenschwander
Lars Neuenschwander

“I remember seeing a surgeon console a child by holding him,” Neuenschwander recalled. “I watched an anesthesiologist comfort another patient before an amputation. Those doctors saw through their patients’ eyes and experienced their fear and anxiety. Their patients’ struggles were their struggles. Their patients’ success was their success. I came back to the States knowing there was nothing else I wanted to do.”

“Medicine wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, I chose something I avoided my whole life and ended up falling in love with it.”

Though Neuenschwander fears had been replaced by a new goal, there was still another obstacle on his path.

“One of my greatest challenges was learning to become passionate about my own education,” he said. “In high school, I wasn’t exceptionally motivated to study. At WSU, I focused on my education and transformed myself into the student I aspired to be.”

Neuenschwander has excelled at WSU and been awarded numerous scholarships, including the Elson S. Floyd Medical Student Scholarship.

“Scholarships have helped me focus on my studies by alleviating the financial burden,” Neuenschwander said. “My goal is to give back once I become a doctor.”

Neuenschwander’s vision for giving back includes serving Spanish-speaking communities. His internship in Costa Rica, and another in Guatemala through the Hearts in Motion program, inspired this commitment.

“I’ve seen parallels between the challenges in underserved communities in Washington state and Central America,” he said. “I believe we could use similar solutions for these challenging problems.”

Medical innovation

Three medical professionals pose for a picture in surgical wear
While volunteering at a clinic in Costa Rica in 2018, Lars worked in the maternity ward with fellow volunteers and staff.

Neuenschwander sees medical innovation as key to those solutions and has progressed his ideas into action through collaborative research with faculty and peers.

“Lars is the kind of student who goes the extra mile,” said Dr. Georgina Lynch, WSU College of Medicine assistant professor. “He demonstrates diligence and shows great teamwork.”

Neuenschwander has helped advance Dr. Lynch’s research in earlier detection of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including the development of hardware to conduct physical screening of the pupillary light reflex, a measure known to be atypical in ASD.

In 2020, Dr. Lynch and Neuenschwander co-founded the Appiture Biotechnologies, Inc. Through funding received from the Jones Milestone Accelerator and Greater Spokane Incorporated, the startup is creating a more streamlined process for early screening and diagnoses of ASD. This will help children gain access to resources at an earlier age, which can have a positive impact on their development.

“It’s not uncommon to see Lars attempt multiple tests to this equipment and make new materials on his own,” Dr. Lynch said. “Lars’s aptitude for developing technology, and his inquisitive nature, are the perfect combination to move his goal forward.”

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