Explaining that there’s a “story behind every application,” the Association of American Medical Colleges website has a series of Q&As with people on their journey from med school applicant to student (and beyond). Among those featured is Cheri Blauwet, MD, a Stanford alum and Paralympian wheelchair racer, whose personal story is beyond compelling. (At one time she was considered one of the world’s most accomplished Paralympic athletes; as her website biography states, she considers sports a “platform through which she can promote disability rights and empowerment at an international level.”)
I found three parts of her Q&A particularly interesting:
What led to your interest in medicine? Who or what inspired you?
As a child who had acquired spinal cord injury at 16 months of age, I began interacting with the health care system when I was very young.
From attending the pediatric SCI clinic as a toddler, to popping wheelies in my first wheelchair when I was 6, to having major orthopedic spine surgery when I was 12, I had already seen it all (good, bad, and ugly) by the time I was a teenager.
These interactions taught me what qualities I found valuable in my doctors. Most importantly, I began to observe that many physicians had a hard time understanding that simply because I was a young person with a spinal cord injury, I was not inherently sick or flawed…
How did you balance the demands of medical school and training as an elite athlete?
I’m not quite sure! It was certainly a tight schedule, but I often find that the busier I get, the more efficient I am… I was also fortunate to have the ability to take short leaves of absence from medical school when my larger events were approaching…
I also found that racing was tied so inextricably to my identity, that there was simply no way that I could be Cheri the Medical Student without also being Cheri the Athlete.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
This year, I am one of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Chief Residents. I just went to check my mailbox and amongst all the clutter was a card from a patient that I took care of one month ago on my spinal cord injury rotation. It says “Doc, I can’t begin to thank you for the care you provided me.”
Also – breaking stereotypes. I LOVE breaking stereotypes. So, when people see me in the cafeteria and ask me how long I’ve been a patient, to which I reply, “actually, I’m one of the doctors here,” – that is a good day.
Photo of Blauwet in the 2005 Boston Marathon courtesy of cheriblauwet.com