When Jacie Lee Lemos tore her ACL during her freshman year at Stanford, she sought advice about how to keep her athletic and academic careers on track.
As a varsity lacrosse player and a pre-med student, she had two different advisors, but they each were highly specialized; neither could help her create a master plan for the two equally important facets of her college career.
With help from those advisors, as well as family and friends, Lemos successfully navigated her way through the injury to the ligament in her knee.
The experience inspired her to co-found Athletes in Medicine at Stanford, a group that provides mentoring, guidance and support for undergraduate athletes who aspire to be physicians.
For these students, "I think there's some misconception that there is less commitment to either being a student or being an athlete," said Lemos, who is pursuing both a bachelor's and master's degree in Stanford's coterminal program. "You can do both, you can succeed at both, and your two passions can help each other in a lot of ways."
Creating a network
The group sprang out of a conversation Lemos had a year ago with beach volleyball player and fellow pre-med student Kathryn Anderson. Sitting at Jimmy V's drinking vanilla iced lattes, they talked about how lucky they were to have a like-minded person for support as they pursued athletic and academic excellence. What if they could extend that support to other people?
"I think we wrote the group's mission statement right there in the café," said Anderson, who graduated last spring but was a junior at the time.
To create a network, Anderson and Lemos sifted through the Stanford Alumni Mentoring database to find student-athlete alums currently working in medicine. They identified close to 100 people around the country.
"I was inspired by all the different routes that our alumni have taken. Some people even played professionally before applying to med school," said Anderson. "I think knowing that there is no perfect formula will encourage a lot of people to stick with pre-med."
Michael Sgroi, MD, a clinical assistant professor in Stanford's Division of Vascular Surgery and former Stanford football placekicker, answered their email immediately.
"I had been thinking about this since I was an undergrad, but never got it off the ground," he said. "Once I started as faculty, I went on the mentoring website and there they were, already working on my idea!"
Starting the group
Athletes in Medicine at Stanford was officially commissioned in July 2019. Since then, the nine-member team has worked to foster a community of current and former Stanford student-athletes in medicine, created a website, compiled a list of resources and started developing a curriculum to help guide scholar-athletes on the path to medical school.
They have also held four virtual events, with guests ranging from MCAT tutors to medical school admissions advisors, and used social media to promote interviews with alumni, such as Michelle Xiao, the 2018 Pac-12 Women's Soccer Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Xiao recalls feeling overwhelmed by the dual demands of sports and pre-med studies. She credits two Stanford Medicine physicians -- both former student-athletes at Stanford -- with providing career guidance: Lauren Shapiro, MD, an orthopedic surgery fellow who was on the soccer team; and Geoffrey Abrams, MD, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery who played tennis.
"Dr. Abrams was my surgeon when I broke my arm my junior year," Xiao said. "After I graduated, I started working on some clinical research projects in sports medicine with him. He's been an incredible mentor."
Xiao decided to spend a year after graduating to focus on research. She will start medical school at Stanford this month and is looking forward to mentoring AIMS student-athletes.
Plans for expansion
Sgroi says Athletes in Medicine at Stanford is just getting started. An accredited seminar from the group will appear in the Stanford course catalog this winter. However, he said, "Even if you don't take the class you can still be part of the network."
Sgroi says his ultimate goal is to expand AIMS into a regional or even national program.
"Other universities need to know that just because you're playing a sport doesn't mean you can't pursue a rigorous career," Sgroi said.
When he was applying to colleges, Stanford was the only institution where his decision to pursue a pre-med curriculum wasn't met with skepticism, he added.
Sgroi believes skills that help student-athletes succeed can actually make them better doctors.
"Student-athletes have leadership skills, organizational skills and the ability to take critique and build on it," he said. "They're always continuing to grow and adapt to adverse situations."
Top photo of Jacie Lee Lemos playing lacrosse by Ed Gjertsen. Photo of Kathryn Anderson by Karen Ambrose Hickey.