Biology Alum Is Committed to Remedying Health Disparities

Keyla Payano

B.S. Biology

Keyla Payano ‘19C, who majored in Biology and minored in Chemistry at St. John’s University, begins medical school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine this fall. Ms. Payano was selected as an Einstein Service and Research Scholar, a role that provides a partial merit scholarship for all four years of medical school.  

Amid several medical school acceptances, Ms. Payano chose Albert Einstein because it most aligns with her personal mission of serving the underserved and remedying disparities in healthcare.  

While a student at St. John’s, Ms. Payano conducted bioinformatics research under the supervision of Biological Sciences Professor and Director of Environmental Studies Laura Schramm, Ph.D. Ms. Payano and research partner Paul Espiritu ‘19C presented their work at the Max Planck Florida Institute’s 2019 Sunposium.  

“I unquestionably attribute much of my accomplishments to the work I was able to do under Dr. Schramm’s guidance,” Ms. Payano said. “Throughout my medical school interviews, I was constantly asked about my research and know that it played a significant role in my acceptances.” 

“I first met Keyla in my Environmental Chemistry course, and I recognized her talent for data analysis immediately,” said Dr. Schramm. “Using bioinformatics techniques, Keyla and Paul worked with me to explore the possibility that a transcription factor complex I study was deregulated in brain cancer. Keyla and Paul made an excellent research team. I had no doubt Keyla would be successful in her goal of attending medical school. I am grateful I was able to serve as Keyla’s research mentor and witness her reach her goal of attending medical school.” 

During the summer following her graduation from St. John’s, Ms. Payano performed clinical research at Columbia University Medical Center. Through a subsequent gap year, she worked as a research data associate at the NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center. That experience emphasized the importance of research and clinical trials in the development of medical treatments. 

“Medical schools are also research institutions, and it’s wonderful to see patients whose lives have been extended because of clinical trials,” said Ms. Payano.  

While at St. John’s, Ms. Payano volunteered as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, an experience that taught her to treat patients holistically and expect the unexpected. “As an EMT, you deal with different people within their very specific circumstances, so it’s important to stay humble and treat every patient equally. You also need to be ready for everything because you don’t know what you’re walking into.” 

Although Ms. Payano was not planning to begin her medical school journey during a pandemic, she is ready for that, too. “The current situation makes my commitment as a health care worker even more powerful,” she said. 

In addition to her research with Dr. Schramm, Ms. Payano attributes her success to the mentoring she received through the R.I.S.E. Network (Reach, Inspire, Succeed, Empower) at St. John’s. She also became connected with her summer internship at Columbia through the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) program.