Physician, Paralympic Athlete and So Much More

Session 66

Session 66

In this episode, Ryan talks with Cheri, an athlete in undergrad who went to Stanford Medical School and is currently in fellowship training at Harvard. Cheri is also an accomplished Paralympic wheelchair racer who has bagged a number of medals for our country.

Today, Cheri shares her wonderful journey in becoming a physician, her experiences as a medical student, being a wheelchair user, and how she continues to advocate for people living with disabilities in the medical community, athlete community, and beyond! She also shares with us how becoming a patient affected her as a physician.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Cheri:

Her interest in becoming a physician:

  • Growing up on a farm in Iowa
  • Having been influenced by her mom being chief nurse officer for a healthcare network in South Dakota
  • Sustaining a spinal cord injury at a young age which got her exposed to healthcare

About her spinal cord injury:

  • Got into a farming accident when she was just a year and a half
  • Had a complete spinal cord injury that she had to utilize a wheelchair for mobility

Disability as a factor during her premed path:

  • Going to the University of Arizona primarily to become a student athlete where she can play wheelchair racing
  • Not seeing her disability as a barrier to applying to medical school

What premed life was like for Cheri:

  • Big classes and working towards honors degrees
  • Having the goal of finding a way to stand out among all students
  • Juggling of commitments as a student athlete

Her biggest struggle as a premed:

Not having a natural passion for the more analytical classes like Calculus and Physics where she had to spend extra time in the classes

Strategies Cheri used to succeed in premed:

  • Making friends to help each other out as each person has their own strengths and weaknesses
  • Identifying your professors and looking at their teaching style and how they test.

Her thought process in selecting a medical school:

  • Getting more involved in her racing career so she was looking for a school that could allow her to continue her training
  • Choosing a school that enabled her to excel and that is more flexible in their curriculum

Receiving negative feedback about being in a wheelchair:

  • Due to legal backing, schools are not supposed to ask you about your disability pointblank in an interview
  • The huge grey area is what happens behind closed doors

How has her disability made her a better physician:

  • Being in the patient’s shoes, it brings everything down to earth in a totally different way
  • It all comes down to being real and having the inherent ability to understand that they are humans, they are who they are, and are experiencing their injury or illness that is personal to them.

Cheri’s racing career:

  • Began in junior high and carried it through
  • Renting a racing chair and going to a state meet
  • Getting empowered being in a community of wheelchair racers
  • Training at the University of Arizona when she was in college
  • Competing nationally and internationally

Joining the Paralympics:

  • Being qualified for her first Paralympics in Sydney when she was undergrad
  • Competed in three Paralympics (Sydney, Athens, and Beijing)
  • Brought home a total of 7 medals – 1 gold, 1 silver, 5 bronze
  • Got into road racing specifically marathon
  • Traveled the world marathon circuit
  • Cheri views sports as a tremendous vehicle to mobility, empowerment, and teaching others around you that it’s possible

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

  • Think of it as a journey so you will have more fun along the way.
  • Make it fun and fulfilling by examining your background, what brought you there, and your passion.
  • Medicine is very diverse so there are so many ways for you to make an impact and bring your background to the table to make it better.
  • Think about what makes you special and what your passions are.

Links and Other Resources:

Check out this YouTube video about Cheri:

Session 62: Allison’s Story – When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

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