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Two sets of sisters will be among the 153 graduates receiving their degrees from the Health Professions Programs at IU School of Medicine on May 14. Kiara and Kaylee Thornton and Roa and Arwa Alharbi have found their paths to health care driven by their motivation to help family and their impact on potential patients.

Health Professions Programs graduates two sets of sisters in the Class of 2021

Two sets of sisters will be among the 153 graduates receiving their degrees from the Health Professions Programs at IU School of Medicine on May 14. Kiara and Kaylee Thornton and Roa and Arwa Alharbi have found their paths to health care driven by their motivation to help family and their impact on potential patients.

Roa and Arwa Alharbi - BS, Clinical Laboratory Science

Two of a kind. Two peas in a pod. And any other idiom that describes two indivisible sisters do not come close to describing the bond Roa and Arwa Alharbi have. As twins, Roa and Arwa have been inseparable for the last 28 years. As Roa describes, "Arwa and I are like a machine with two parts; if your take away one of the two parts, the machine stops working."

Roa and Arwa Alharbi, who are from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, live together, study together and even work together at the Office of International Affairs. They both will be graduating from the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) Bachelor of Science degree program, which prepares graduates with the knowledge, entry-level competencies, and professional attitudes to practice in the clinical laboratory.

Roa and Arwa had a clear goal regarding the type of education they were seeking when they decided to enroll in the CLS program. This goal includes working in a research lab that focuses on Type 1 diabetes and beta-cell research. Roa and Arwa want to be a part of a generation that develops a cure for a disease they have watched their oldest sister endure since she was 19. Graduating from the CLS program is a stepping stone for Roa and Arwa to a bright future full of higher education, research and breakthroughs. And they plan to do it all together.

It is clear their bond as sisters transcends through their education. Whenever an instructor encourages students to work and study in a group, Roa and Arwa realize the benefit to its fullest extent. There are times when Arwa understands a concept and can explain it to Roa and vice versa. They even see similarities in their grades, as they often have the same answers, make the same mistakes and receive the same scores.

Their biggest challenge came within the last few months of their program. During clinical rotations, Roa and Arwa were split up at different locations. They immediately noticed a difference in the way they learned. Roa and Arwa genuinely understand and perform better as a team.

"I truly enjoy witnessing their sisterly bond. They are each exceptional students individually, but when they are together there is a marvelous dynamic that has been formed over a lifetime of shared experience and a common interests." says Nick Brehl, Clinical Laboratory Science program director.

After graduation, they would like to gain work experience in a clinical lab and then continue with graduate education. The Office of International Affairs at IUPUI offers them that opportunity via an optional training program for international students to work in their field for 12 months after they graduate. Roa and Arwa are excited about the future and what it holds for research discoveries in Type 1 diabetes and how they can make a difference together, for their sister and others living with this disease.

Kaylee Thornton, BS, Radiation Therapy and Kiara Thornton, AS, Radiography

Kiara and Kaylee Thornton describe themselves as opposites when it comes to personality. But it is evident in how they talk about their educational programs and careers that they share a similar work ethic and passion.

Kaylee Thornton is graduating from the radiation therapy program. Radiation therapists administer the prescribed dose of ionizing radiation to specific sites of the patient's body, as directed by the physician, to treat benign or malignant tumors.

When asked about her motivation for choosing the radiation therapy program, Kaylee said she enjoys being “a beacon of light” in her patients' journeys with cancer—seeing them daily, getting to know them, learning their stories and being there during the most challenging times of their lives.

“Radiation therapy is something special, and working with patients every day in the clinics definitely keeps you going and keeps you coming back to work,” Kaylee said.

Kaylee enjoyed her rotation at IU Health University Hospital because she was able to work with a diverse patient population. Her clinical rotations included treating pediatric patients, breast cancer patients and lung cancer patients. Kaylee could tell the therapists and staff at University Hospital truly loved the work, loved to teach and loved their patients. When it comes to her next steps after graduation, Kaylee sees herself working in a similar environment.

“Kaylee is a remarkable student! She demonstrates exceptional intellect in the classroom, as well as superb skills in her clinical settings. Her clinical instructors and patients comment that she is such an amazing and professional caregiver. These attributes will certainly contribute to her success as an outstanding future radiation therapist,” said Maria Walker, director of the radiation therapy training program.

As an athlete, Kiara Thornton is no stranger to broken bones and X-rays. She always knew she wanted to work in health care, and with the help of her academic advisors, Kiara found the radiography program at IU School of Medicine, which prepares students to perform radiographic procedures and evaluate images.

Kiara was heavily motivated by the radiologic technologists she worked with during her clinical rotations. She was impressed with how they ran their department and how they always went the extra mile in helping students learn. Even after clinicals were put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the techs were patient, quick in catching them up and confident in the student's abilities.

Kiara loved having clinicals at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center. In contrast to Kaylee, Kiara only spends a short time with each patient, but this does not hinder the impact patients have on Kiara. Each day she was at the VA Medical Center, she listened to the eye-opening stories of everyone who came through. She enjoyed being a part of a team that was able to help each patient’s path toward healing.

“We enjoyed having Kiara in clinic at the VA. She was always energetic and spirited. She will forever be my ‘loud and proud’ student, asking the patients to state their info loud and proud so that the technologist could hear. I knew instantly that she was a cheerleader through and through,” said Brandi Kaiser, Kiara’s clinical instructor at the VA Medical Center.

After graduation, Kiara would like to work at a teaching hospital so she can be a role model to incoming students like the radiologic technologists she learned from were to her. “I want to be that tech that helps students through their education and show them the way because I was just in their shoes,” Kiara said.

Reflective of their individual programs, Kiara describes herself as spontaneous and quickly goes with the flow. In contrast, Kaylee prefers structure and routine. Kiara and Kaylee feel prepared to enter the workforce after graduation with the variety of experiences they obtained through their program at IU School of Medicine and they know that both their programs are incredibly supportive during the transition period.

This May, when members of the IU School of Medicine Class of 2021 turn their tassels, the Thornton sisters and the Alharbi sisters will officially earn the designation of college graduates together – a unique journey and a stepping stone to bright futures as colleagues in health professions.

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IU School of Medicine

With more than 60 academic departments and specialty divisions across nine campuses and strong clinical partnerships with Indiana’s most advanced hospitals and physician networks, Indiana University School of Medicine is continuously advancing its mission to prepare healers and transform health in Indiana and throughout the world.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.