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Success & Impact

Future Doctor Looks to Provide Inclusive Care

Senior Sarah Halupa, BS ’24, will graduate from Saint Joseph’s this spring and head to medical school at nearby Thomas Jefferson University, where she’ll join a program focused on providing better care for patients with autism.

Sarah Halupa participating in Camp Kinney Sarah Halupa, BS ’24, back row, fourth from the left, participating in Camp Kinney

Written by: Alex Hargrave ’20

Published: April 30, 2024

Total reading time: 4 minutes

In her future career as a physician, Sarah Halupa, BS ’24, will spend each day acting on her two greatest passions: science and service. 

This fall, Halupa, a biology major and autism behavioral studies minor, will attend Thomas Jefferson’s medical school as part of a joint program with Saint Joseph’s University that trains future physicians to better care for patients with autism. 

Halupa started working at SJU’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support as a sophomore and soon completed more than 500 hours of work, which is a requirement to enroll in Jefferson’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College Scholars program. 

Her work at the Kinney Center has highlighted for her how most of society, including healthcare, is built only with those who are neurotypical in mind, Halupa says.

At Saint Joseph’s, she contributed to research about the effects of SSRIs on patients on the autism spectrum, and she also participated in research at Jefferson about creating more sensory-friendly doctor visits for neurodivergent children.

“People who are on the spectrum, a lot of times, don't even make it to their doctor's appointments because it’s a lot, mentally and emotionally, when they know it's a sensory overloaded environment,” Halupa says. “I've had so many interactions and so many friends here who I know are on the spectrum and who have had these problems. I would like to be somebody who could be a voice for inclusive care.”

"I would like to be somebody who could be a voice for inclusive care.”

Sarah Halupa, BS ’24

Michael McCann, PhD, professor and chair of biology department, has taught Halupa in several biology classes throughout her four years at Saint Joseph’s. He says that Halupa’s rigorous course load and various activities outside of the classroom have prepared her for a successful medical career.

“I am confident that she will be the kind of physician that all of us would want to have treating us or a family member, as she has really become a fully formed person during her time here,” McCann says.

While her passion working with those who are neurodivergent was cultivated at Saint Joseph’s, medical school has been part of Halupa’s plan since before she came to college. Her career choice is not a surprise, she says, given that her mom is a nurse practitioner, her brother is a physician and her dad is a dentist.

“I’ve also been such a science nerd my whole life,” she says. “I remember coming home from elementary school and begging my mom to do science experiments with me.”

Halupa was accepted to the program at Jefferson during her junior year, so she’s been able to spend her senior year devoting time to many extracurricular activities in lieu of applying to medical schools and studying for the MCAT.

Halupa’s interests are widespread, as evidenced by her involvement at Saint Joseph’s. She is president of University Singers, participates in chapel choir, is a member of the honor fraternity Phi Sigma Pi, and she served as a Philadelphia Service Immersion Program leader for two years and an Appalachian Experience (APEX) service/immersion program leader and peer minister.

Sarah Halupa at APEX 2023 in Wheeling, West Virginia
Sarah Halupa, BS ’24, front row, second from the right, at APEX 2023 in Wheeling, West Virginia

After leading a group during a spring break APEX immersion as a junior, Halupa spent most of this year preparing for the 2024 program as one of three APEX peer ministers, who work with Tricia Riordan, Campus minister for APEX, to plan the program for more than 105 participants and 23 leaders.

Riordan has worked closely with Halupa for the two years she’s served as an APEX leader. To Riordan, what sets Halupa apart from her peers is her leadership and commitment to growth in all facets of her life, including faith, academics and service.

“Sarah is such a deep thinker – that’s such a gift she’s brought to our program,” Riordan says. “She values those experiential education opportunities, such as APEX, and her traditional academic coursework. Her integration of both of those is preparing her to be an intelligible doctor.”

Halupa, herself, is from Frackville, Pennsylvania, part of the Appalachian region. For that reason, she says, she didn’t expect to enjoy her first APEX trip as much as she did. This spring, she was a leader in Alleghany Highlands, Virginia, a town with a lot of older residents with whom her group was able to spend a lot of time, making connections and engaging in service projects.

“It has shown me that I might not be able to change the world, but I can change somebody’s world."

Sarah Halupa, BS ’24

“It has shown me that I might not be able to change the world, but I can change somebody’s world,” Halupa says.

That is an outlook that she says she hopes to take with her into her medical career. 

“I can see people for who they are, as people rather than their diagnosis, or rather than for the sickness they’re presenting me with,” Halupa says. 

As she prepares for graduation, Halupa says that while Saint Joseph’s wasn’t where she imagined she would go to school when she first considered her college choices, she can’t imagine her life if she had gone anywhere else. 

“I can explore everything I’m passionate about in one place,” she says. “There are so many things that are so unique to Saint Joe’s.