Self-described “strong woman” Liliana (Lili) Ladner ’21 credits Barnard for laying a fierce foundation for how to advocate for women scholars and for what is right, as well as other STEM-focused alumnae for mentoring her through such a powerful lens. Barnard may have taught the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine first-year that she could do anything she put her mind to, “even in a field [that has] traditionally catered to men,” she said, but her personal background is not without adaptation, a skill that’s crucial for any medical professional.

For example, Ladner has called Philadelphia home since high school, but she moved around the U.S. and Europe quite a bit before then with her family, including to Vienna for five years. During her time at Barnard, Ladner adapted to overnight shifts while servicing the Morningside community with the Columbia University Emergency Medical Service (CUEMS) and conducted research with Barnard’s world-class neuroscientists and alumnae. Working in Christine Denny’s Denny Laboratory at Columbia from 2018 to 2021 — alongside Christina LaGamma ’16 and Josie McGowan ’16 — was especially inspirational, considering that both LaGamma and McGowan are also pursuing graduate degrees in medicine and neuroscience. “These Barnard women taught me how to be a thoughtful, dedicated scientist, and I can only hope to emulate the gusto with which they chase their dreams,” said Ladner. 

Now, as she pursues her own dreams in academic medicine and research, Ladner said she’s “learning that a physician’s most important role is to be a patient’s advocate, a role that I feel well prepared for by my time at Barnard.” Even though the daily life of a medical student is busy with research and labs, Ladner shares how she finds ways to connect with others, whether that is with her fellow medical students via a carpool to class or with former mentor LaGamma via a video call from her location at Pennsylvania State University’s School of Medicine. Read Ladner’s Day in the Life below, in recognition of Women’s History Month (March).

Lili Ladner 1

5 a.m.: My day starts early, with a steaming cup of coffee and some pre-class studying. I’m likely listening to the “French Café Lounge” playlist on Spotify and hiding in a warm blanket until the sun rises. I’ve always been a morning person, but have found it especially helpful now to get most of my work done before my classes start. So little of the world is awake [at this hour], so these hours are mine to cherish, untouched by the needs of the day. It’s peaceful!

Lili Ladner with med friends.

7:45 a.m.: Every Tuesday morning, I carpool with friends to our anatomy lab. I am fortunate to learn from individuals who donated their bodies to medicine, and I know this experience will make me a better physician. I’ve been fascinated by anatomy lab, a finding that has sparked interest in a surgical field. Who knows, maybe my Meredith Grey dreams will come true?

Lili Ladner hiking

10:26 a.m.: Phew, done with dissections for the day. We stop for a late-lunch biscuit run on our way back. At one of the smallest medical schools in the country, with 49 classmates, I have gotten to know my classmates well. Having a support network has been invaluable, and I can easily say that each person in this photo will be a long-term friend. (Peep the run to the top of the mountain behind me, at 12:48 p.m.)

Lili Ladner coffee

10:51 a.m.: I’m on my way to a research meeting, caffeine in hand. For my neuroscience and behavior thesis at Barnard, I studied memory in a mouse model of brain injury. I am now working on similar research in a patient population, [where I’m] hoping to improve outcomes after people hit their heads hard. It’s been exciting to study a field that is so complex, so intricate. 

Lili Ladner with friend

12:48 p.m.: Repping Columbia on my run up a mountain with a friend. Going on runs and exploring the outdoors has been a necessary reprieve from courses for me. The mountain we climbed is Mill Mountain, one of the many rolling hills surrounding the city of Roanoke. Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail, Roanoke is a hilly playground. We take in the views at the top and catch our breath before racing back to reality.

Lili Ladner skeleton

1:55 p.m.: Back on the grind. My roommate and I are enjoying an empty library, with our good pal Ms. Skeleton. I am working on a PBL (patient-based learning) PowerPoint that I’ll present to a small class tomorrow. I wouldn’t say the content in medical school is difficult to grasp, it’s just the pace of learning that makes it a challenge. 

Lili Ladner ultrasound

3:34 p.m.: I got to see my kidney in ultrasound class! We practice ultrasounds on each other so we know how to do them in the hospital during rotations. It’s been a kidney day today. I’ve seen the kidney in an anatomy lab, in my physiology textbook, and in my own body on ultrasound. Pretty fun to compare these different perspectives of one organ!

Lili Ladner mentor

6:47 p.m. (left): Meeting with Christina LaGamma ’16, my research mentor while at Barnard. She’s a third-year medical student at Penn State, and her mentorship has been, and always will be, invaluable to my growth as a woman in medicine. 

9:52 p.m.: I am winding down for the night after a full day. In these late hours, I journal or read, and then call it a night early. Thanks for joining along!

text saying "Year of Science" surrounded by various scientific paraphernalia, such as beakers, gears, and nuclear symbols