Inspired by doctors who cared for her family, BYU grad Caitlin Silva pursues a career as a genetic counselor.
When Caitlin Silva was five years old, the life of her family changed forever when doctors diagnosed her two younger sisters with cystic fibrosis.
From a young age, Silva got firsthand experience of living in a family affected by genetic illness. After years of attending doctors’ appointments with her siblings, Silva grew more and more impressed with how healthcare professionals cared for her sisters.
“The doctors who interacted with them cared about them beyond just the disease they had,” Silva shared. “They cared about them as people too and took a genuine interest in their lives.”
That concern and care sparked Silva’s interest in genetic medicine, interest that has grown into a life’s mission.
“I want to be like those doctors and help support patients like my sisters that have genetic conditions,” she said.
Since she was just 10 years old, Silva has been heavily involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a nonprofit focused on providing the means to cure cystic fibrosis and improve the quality of living for those who have it.
Those with cystic fibrosis cannot come within six feet of each other because the risk of transmitting infections between one another is too high, so patients are unable to all go together to Washington, D.C., to advocate for themselves. Silva and other volunteers thus served as liaisons between patients and policymakers.
“This experience allowed me to see up close the needs and wants of patients, in addition to seeing what changes in legislation they wanted at a national level,” Silva said. “This opportunity gave me a bigger perspective on adversity and the way that every person individually struggles with cystic fibrosis.”
When the time for college rolled around, Silva knew that she wanted to attend a university that would equip her with the necessary skills to best serve those afflicted with genetic diseases. However, at the same time, she felt strongly that she needed to learn at a place that provided her with the spiritual guidance she felt was so necessary to achieve her goals.
“I am someone who firmly believes that God can do so much more with our lives than we can do ourselves,” she said. “He can guide us in any aspect of any profession because He is the expert on absolutely everything that we could do in this world.”
Her desire for spiritual learning and her need for effective resources to pursue her passions ultimately led her to attend Brigham Young University.
“I am so grateful that I came to BYU, not only for a greater understanding of genetics but also for spiritual insight as well. That’s what has been the most helpful to me in addition to all the incredible resources that BYU gives.”
As a student at BYU, Silva has worked hard to complete her undergraduate degree in genetics, genomics and biotechnology as a stepping stone to one day becoming a genetic counselor.
“With this major, I sought to better understand genetic diseases themselves so as to serve patients that I’ll work with in the future more effectively,” she said.
Silva credits her time at BYU as monumental in helping her achieve both her academic and professional goals. She became part of BYU’s Pre-Genetic Counseling Club on campus shortly after it was created, which provided her with resources that helped her to get an internship at Johns Hopkins. There, she worked as a genetic counseling intern and connected with mentors that “have made all the difference in [her] academic pursuits.”
In addition to being a hardworking student who is passionate about helping those with genetic diseases, Silva has gone above and beyond in the academic world. This year, she was a finalist for the Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, a prestigious award given to students who are focused on “[addressing] complex challenges facing the world.” Out of thousands of applicants, Silva was one of about 150 who were considered to receive this tremendous honor. As a finalist for the scholarship, she was flown out to Stanford University to be interviewed and to interact with other finalists.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” she shared. “To get to go to Stanford and meet so many incredible people who will be the next leaders of the world was amazing.”
As she now prepares to complete her undergraduate studies and move on to graduate school, Silva looks back on how much she has grown in every aspect of her life since beginning at BYU.
“When I started at BYU I could never have imagined where I’d be now, the experiences that I’ve had and the things that I’ve learned,” she said. “It’s not because of any monumental thing that happened, it’s just because of the small and simple things that I did day-to-day by doing well in my classes and seeking out opportunities to lead and to serve.”
Silva’s passion for helping those with genetic diseases and her academic achievements, coupled with the spiritual learning she cherished so much as a student at BYU, helped her find her own unique path to serving, loving and helping others.
“God has given us unique spiritual gifts, motivations and talents,” she shared. “Because of that we all have a unique path and trajectory in our lives, so we shouldn’t compare our paths to the paths of others.”