It was in a bustling emergency room in Chile that Lauren Mills learned one of her most valuable lessons in medical school: No matter the location, doctors speak the same language when it comes to saving lives. Mills, who is graduating this month with a medical degree and master of public health degree from the Keck School of Medicine of USC, spent two weeks in Santiago as part of her studies.

“One of my interests is understanding different health care systems in different countries, so being able to learn about a culture and a people while you’re experiencing their health care is cool,” Mills said. “Things can be so different in other countries but when it comes to medicine and saving a life, things are very much the same. That experience showed me how medicine can transcend boundaries and languages, even when you’re all of these miles away from home.”

The Los Angeles native knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine at an early age but became interested in public health as a USC undergraduate, where she was able to experience public health on the highest level during an internship with the World Health Organization.

“Public health is crucial to how we practice medicine and I think it’s undervalued in medical school,” Mills said. “After graduation, I wanted to continue to explore public health, so I was happy that, when I got to medical school, they had just started the four-year MD/MPH program.”

In addition to her time spent in Chile, Mills was able to conduct research on HPV vaccinations in Panama City. But her interest in public health will take a back seat as she begins her residency at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she will specialize in pediatrics. Luckily for her, Mills will be able to find support close to home as she enters this next stage in her career — from her mother Donna Elliott, MD, EdD, senior associate dean for student and educational affairs and professor of clinical pediatrics (educational scholar).

“It was very cool to attend the school where my mom is an administrator and then to follow in her footsteps by going into pediatrics,” Mills said. “It’s unusual to have your mother understand what you’re going through. She was there with me along this journey, and she was a great support system for me. Being able to see her crossing the quad, then grab coffee and get advice from her was very special.”

Elliott agreed, adding that the duo’s close relationship also extended to Mills’ classmates, who were able to see the administrator as a parental figure in addition to a school leader.

“It has been a unique experience to get to know the Class of 2017 both as the student affairs dean but also as Lauren’s mom,” Elliott said. “And to see Lauren thrive in medical school and watch her on Match Day, following in the same specialty as I did, makes me very proud of her.”

— Melissa Masatani