Courtney Sommer was a three-time All-America selection for Duke during her career (1997-00), and played with the U.S. National Team as a junior. Sommer was the first field hockey player from Duke to play with the U.S. National Team, and was an alternate during the 1999 Pan-American games. Sommer truly defined what it meant to be a student-athlete, as she earned two selections to the NFHCA National Academic Squad (1999-2000) and attended the University of North Carolina Medical School following her undergraduate studies. Sommer is currently involved with a government-funded research fellowship that works with public healthcare. Sommer took some time to sit down with GoDuke.com to discuss her playing days and ambitions within the medical field.
GoDuke.com: When you reflect on your playing career, what do you think about your time spent at Duke?
Courtney Sommer: I had a great experience at Duke. I came along as the team was transitioning into a well-respected program that was consistently in the Top 20, and then later went on to multiple Final Fours. I was there before Duke gained a lot of national prominence. I think I learned a lot from the ups and downs of intense college athletics. In terms of preparation for what I'm doing now, I don't know that there are a lot of better ways to prepare for a general surgery residency than being a Division I athlete. It can be pretty grueling at times, just the physical hours and the nature of what we do. I felt well prepared having done some pretty difficult things in college through field hockey.
GD: You have the perspective to compare where the program was to where it is now. Do you think it has been a huge jump or some gradual improvements that got Duke to the top level?
CS: I think when I went to Duke, I felt like the program was on the rise. I don't know that I would say it was a huge jump, but I think a lot of it is the team believing they can compete with anybody. When I was at Duke we were just starting to believe that. I had a different coach [Liz Tchou], but [head coach Beth Bozman] has done a great job recruiting and I think that continually recruiting talented athletes has paid off. Duke started getting wins over Top 10 programs, and then it seemed to happen consistently. But it's just getting over that hump where you start to beat the teams that used to beat you. We weren't quite there when I was playing which was somewhat disappointing.
GD: You were an extremely accomplished player at the collegiate level, but what was your experience like with the U.S. National Team?
CS: It was new and exciting. It was hard because we were training in San Diego. They now train in Virginia, which is obviously a lot closer to Duke. I was flying across the country a lot. There were a lot of coaching changes and they were trying to change the way that they built a team. The next few years the U.S. team was trying to get younger players involved. Now there are people as young as 16 or 17 playing on the National Team, but at that time I was the youngest person on the team.
GD: This wasn't during the summer or a break from class. How were you able to play on the other side of the country while still having commitments at Duke?
CS: It was during the school year. It's basically all year long. Tryouts were over winter break, and we played in the spring and into the summer . I dropped a class and I took a couple classes that I could do a lot of correspondence work for. It was hard to do and at that time, nobody had done it before [from Duke]. I think now a couple people have done similar things, if not at Duke, at other schools in the ACC. The players have learned how to make it work. It took up a lot of time and energy.
Editor's note: 11 ACC players are listed on the current U-21 roster, including sophomore Rhian Jones.
GD: Can you talk about some of the international tournaments and travel?
CS: I went on a couple of tours. I ended up getting mononucleosis, so that set me back a little while. I went to Britain on a tour where we played England and Scotland. I went to Spain on a tour, but I never played in an international tournament. I just went on tours for test matches. The Pan-Am games took place that summer  and I was an alternate for that team, but I missed the cut. And after that was when I decided, you know, I'm probably going to go to medical school.
GD: Can you talk about the government-funded research you are doing now?
CS: I've done three years of general surgery residency, which is a five year training program. Now I am taking two years off, well I wouldn't say taking off, but I'm getting a master's degree in public health at the UNC School of Public Health. I have a research fellowship that is funded by the government. It is in the field of health services, involved with how health care is delivered. It's related to the current issues regarding health care and how we can do things better to give greater care to people. It's not basic science, but a mix of public health and medicine.
GD: I know your schedule is extremely busy, but do you ever get a chance to come see any games? How do you keep up with the team?
CS: My first few years out I used to go to a fair amount of games. During medical school, I used to go to at least a few games each season when they were playing at home or at UNC. During residency I only get four days off a month, so imagine four days off a month for years in a row. It doesn't always work out that one of those days is a day when they have a home game. I get to at least a game or two a season and I went to the Alumni Game two years ago.
GD: Is there one moment or lasting impression that you have of Duke that still is important to you?
CS: Playing at Duke was one of the most fun things I've done, but it was also one of the most challenging. It was competing and really pouring your heart out into something, learning what that feels like. When you know that feeling, you can replicate that in other aspects of your life. A lot of people don't have an experience that pushes them to their limits, and without that you don't always know what your limits are. I know there have been several times during my career as a physician where I felt like there's no way I can keep going. I'd been up for a couple days in a row, but I know I can keep going. I think that's probably the thing I take with me on a day to day basis.