By John Roth, Blue Devil Weekly
DURHAM, N.C. - Transferring to Duke two years ago, basketball player Emily Waner was immediately struck by a strong sense of personal motivation among her new classmates.
“It seemed like everybody was an aspiring doctor or an aspiring lawyer, and I think that’s one of the great things about Duke — you have a small population and they are people who are driven,” she said recently. “One of the things I knew coming to Duke is that I would be surrounded by greatness both on the basketball court and off the court, and that it could propel me forward.”
With two years remaining in her undergraduate career, Waner now includes herself among the highly motivated Blue Devils. A business student as a freshman at Colorado, the reserve guard for coach Gail Goestenkors has become one of those aspiring doctors — thanks in part to a unique Duke program that guides female athletes toward careers in medicine.
The Collegiate Athlete Premedical Experience, or CAPE program, was conceived by Duke neuro-oncologist Dr. Henry Friedman, a staunch supporter of the women’s basketball program. It began informally about seven years ago when Friedman developed a mentoring relationship with women’s basketball star (and aspiring doctor) Georgia Schweitzer, encouraging her to shadow him and other doctors at the Duke Brain Tumor Center.
Several other female athletes followed in Schweitzer’s footsteps, leading Friedman to institutionalize the program two years ago by developing a curriculum, recruiting other faculty members to participate, setting up an administrative structure and establishing a 20-member advisory board, which includes NCAA president Myles Brand, former Duke president Keith Brodie, several high-ranking Duke administrators and a few Duke trustees.
CAPE aims to expose female athletes to various aspects of medical science by providing them a personal firsthand experience, plus support in the application process should they decide to pursue medical school. Recently it has also developed affiliations with the Baldwin Scholars program and the Minorities in Medicine program, so not all of the CAPE students are athletes.
“The program is a win for the kids and it’s unique in the country,” Friedman says. “The kids benefit incredibly, we benefit because it’s our passion and coaches benefit because it is an obvious recruiting edge. If a kid is pre-med, we are a major lure.
“There is some feedback at Duke that it is elitist and unfair, that it isn’t available to all the college kids. Our response is that we are helping the healthcare internship program to get a bit more vibrant... No question this is one of the jewels of the department.”
The CAPE program includes two distinct features. During the academic year, participants spend one semester visiting the Brain Tumor Center once a week to observe and interact with doctors, physician assistants and nurses. During the other semester, they have three meetings a month with Friedman and his staff, one of which is a speaker/role model dinner.
During the summer, CAPE operates an internship program in which participants are paid to work a six-week stint at Duke Medical Center. They spend their time with a wide array of healthcare specialists across a range of departments, gaining insights into several fields. Friedman, neuro-surgeon Dr. Allan Friedman and CAPE program director Terry Kruger have recruited an impressive list of 58 Duke specialists to serve as faculty members for the summer program.
Last year CAPE had 28 students involved during the academic year. This summer there were a half-dozen interns in each of the two six-week sessions.
Despite the rigors of the college basketball schedule, Waner was able to make weekly visits to the Brain Tumor Center during the spring semester. In July she returned to campus for the second summer session as a CAPE intern, balancing her time at the medical center with one summer school physics class and offseason basketball workouts.
“I was in radiology this afternoon,” she said in an interview with BDW, “and so far I’ve also been to surgery, urology, dermatology, neuro-oncology. I was in emergency room pediatrics one Sunday afternoon, I’ve been with a transplant surgeon — all these different doctors.
“I’ve been in their clinics and gotten to watch a couple of surgeries in the operating room. It’s basically a day in the life of that doctor and what they do. It’s been a great experience seeing all the different departments, and it’s been incredible what I’ve learned about myself and what I want to do.
“It’s given me a definite sense of direction,” she added. “I’ve been there every day and it’s hard to leave because I like being there. For me it’s been an eye-opening experience. I’m more motivated to go home and work on physics at night because I know that’s part of the process in getting to where I want to go.”
Waner doesn’t yet know what medical specialty she might like to pursue, but she’s looking forward to spending a portion of her last undergraduate year doing research on stress fractures as part of her graduation with distinction curriculum.
She also realizes that she now has several mentors, including medical students and residents, who are already prepping her for the time when she will have to apply to medical school. One of those is Schweitzer, who is now a second-year medical student at Duke after deferring her admission to play in the WNBA and coach following her senior season of 2001.
“Georgia has been wonderful in helping me understand the whole application process for getting into medical school and what medical school is like,” Waner said. “She took me on one of her rotations in thoracic surgery and it was so cool. This program started with her and I feel really fortunate now because I’m benefiting from her pioneering the way.”
Other female athletes involved in CAPE internships this summer include basketball standout Ali Bales, whose mother is a doctor, plus Rachel-Rose Cohen of the soccer team, Hilary Linton from field hockey, Jen Fraser from track and Bonnie Gregory of the rowing team.
Tiffany Perry, a Duke volleyball player who graduated in May, did a CAPE internship during the summer of 2005 and worked a semester in the Brain Tumor Center. She said the experience reaffirmed her plans to pursue a medical career.
“It’s not like a lot of internships where you are going around getting people coffee,” she said. “It’s a situation where you are right there side by side with a doctor and the doctor is explaining things to you about whatever comes up. It really is the only program like it in the country.”
Perry is now doing ovarian cancer research at Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy while she applies to medical school for enrollment in 2007.
CAPE’s summer internship program is funded by a grant from the Tug McGraw Foundation and is known as the Tug McGraw Pre-Medical Internship program. McGraw, a former major league baseball star, was treated for a malignant brain tumor by Friedman and established the foundation in 2003 before his death. The foundation created the Tug McGraw Neuro-Oncology Quality of Life Research Center at Duke, with a portion of the grant designated to support college students.
Foundation support also established the Tim McGraw Medical Education Scholarship, a four-year, $25,000 per year scholarship designated to provide support for a graduate of Duke and the CAPE program to attend Duke Medical School. It is targeted for a female varsity athlete, and the first recipient was announced this summer. It is former Duke field hockey star Johanna Bischof, who began her first year of med school at Duke last month. The goal is to award a new scholarship every four years. It is named for Tug McGraw’s son Tim, the country music star. Several of the CAPE summer interns were able to meet Tim McGraw and his wife Faith Hill when they held a concert in the Triangle area this summer.
Bischof, from Vancouver, Canada, graduated from Duke in 2005 after an All-America career for the field hockey team, helping it reach the national championship game in each of her last two years. She deferred her enrollment in medical school for one year so she could play for the Canadian National Team part of last year.