Former NICU Baby Is Building a Career in Neonatology

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Shannon Sullivan, NICU, student, Cedars-Sinai
Shannon Sullivan at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC.

When Shannon Sullivan learned she had spent the first 3 months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), she decided to spend her career helping infants.

“I want to save babies the way the doctors at Cedars-Sinai saved me.”

Shannon was born at Cedars-Sinai 13 weeks ahead of schedule and weighed a fragile 1 pound, 13 ounces.

After her parents told her about her preterm birth, she announced her ambition to learn about neonatology—the field of medicine concerned with the care, development, and diseases of newborns.

“I want to save babies the way the doctors at Cedars-Sinai saved me,” Shannon, now 26, recalls telling her parents.

“Neonatology saved my life, and I need to pay it forward.”

Shannon’s career in medicine and neonatology started in the 10th grade when she emailed Dr. Charles Simmons, director of neonatology at Cedars-Sinai.

“She wrote about the special connection to Cedars-Sinai that fueled her interest,” says Dr. Simmons.

At his suggestion, Shannon spent the next 3 summers as a Cedars-Sinai teen volunteer in the nursing units and the NICU’s administrative office. The program gives participants ages 14-18 an opportunity to get hands-on experience in a hospital setting.

Shannon then attended Cedars-Sinai’s 7-week Minors in Research summer program, which pairs teens with faculty mentors who introduce them to lab techniques and research principles.

“Seeing those ‘eureka’ insights through someone else’s eyes, and realizing you’ve really benefited that individual—there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

After high school, Shannon attended Columbia University, earning a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering. Upon graduating, Shannon entered the Cedars-Sinai Research Internship Program. From October 2014 to July 2015 she served as a pediatrics research intern.

“We feel very fortunate to have had Shannon,” says Dr. Simmons. “The Research Internship Program offers Cedars-Sinai faculty the unique privilege of helping educate future leaders. Seeing those ‘eureka’ insights through someone else’s eyes, and realizing you’ve really benefited that individual—there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

Shannon got a second internship at Cedars-Sinai, this time in neurosurgery, from August 2015 to June 2016. Working in the lab of Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, director of human neurophysiology research, she contributed to a study linking a specific set of brain cells to short-term memory.


Read: Making Memory: New Study Explains the Brain’s RAM


Now a second-year medical student at Howard University College of Medicine, Shannon spent last summer back in Rutishauser’s lab, continuing investigation into short-term memory.

“Returning to Cedars-Sinai as a physician-scientist is my long-term goal,” she says. “And I want to serve the neonatal population. Neonatology saved my life, and I need to pay it forward.”

Shannon Sullivan, Charles Simmons, 2015, Research Internship Program Poster Day
Interns Shannon Sullivan (l.) and Sivan Borenstein talk with Dr. Charles Simmons.

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