From Jocks to Docs

From the Summer 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

(from left to right) Patton Robinette, John Ewing, Steve Monk and Alex Hysong. Photo by Joe Howell.
(from left to right) Patton Robinette, John Ewing, Steve Monk and Alex Hysong. Photo by Joe Howell.

On July 15, four Vanderbilt student-athletes arrived for orientation for the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine— former football players Patton Robinette, Alex Hysong and Steve Monk and men’s cross country standout John Ewing.

Just 91 applicants were accepted for the VUSM Class of 2019, which was ranked as the 15th best by U.S. News and World Report, and nearly five percent of that class spent their undergrad years as a Commodore student-athlete.

The entering Commodore quartet won’t be alone either. Former student-athletes John Stokes (football) and Aaron Noll (men’s basketball) are beginning their fourth and final year at VUSM. For some, becoming a doctor was a childhood dream. For others, that path was made clearer after arriving at Vanderbilt.

Either way, Athletic Director David Williams tries to get interested student-athletes in front of Ann Price, M.D., as soon as possible.

Price is the associate dean for Alumni Affairs for the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. A 1978 graduate from the medical school, Price, who was a three-time Tennessee State Collegiate Singles champion and reached the Sweet 16 of the National Women’s Tennis Tournament twice, understands what awaits prospective med students.

“You really have to start getting ready when you’re a freshman,” Price said. “That is what it takes. It takes thinking ahead and really thinking through why I want to be a physician and making the plan and sticking with that course.”

By his sophomore year at Vanderbilt, Ewing knew he wanted to be a physician. A chemical engineering major, the Atlanta native liked the science and biology involved. Being an athlete, anatomy intrigued him and being a physician interested him more than a career in research or public health. But the real kicker for Ewing, similar to his peers, was patient care.

“You could really have the opportunity to have a direct impact on a patient’s life,” said Ewing, who was a H. Boyd McWhorter Award given to the SEC’s top scholar athletes. “It also provides the opportunity for you to wear a lot of different hats. You really could be a leader. It requires you to be a great communicator, a great analytical thinker… something that is challenging in a lot of different ways. But the core of that is being able to work with the patient and make an impact.”

Hysong, of Bethesda, Maryland, knew in high school he wanted to be a doctor. With both parents as dentists, he was exposed to health care at a young age. Among the criteria for medical school applications is research experience. With a busy afterschool life it is often hard for student-athletes to find the time. Price says a research block can be built into the curriculum for Vanderbilt undergrads or aspiring med school students must capitalize on their summers.

All four have done just that, by conducting research or job shadowing. Hysong interned at the National Institutes of Health, at VUMC and at clinics in Nashville and Maryland, but doing research under Mark Kelley, M.D., a surgical oncologist, was extremely influential.

“Observing that surgical oncologist and seeing him interact with his patient, the impact a physician could have on a patient’s life was pretty eye-opening for me,” said Hysong.

Monk came to Vanderbilt unsure of his career path but “being a doctor was one of the things on my short list.” The biology and economics double major also enjoyed fixing things. From a young age, he liked tinkering with broken items or mastering jigsaw puzzles. Monk, who was the valedictorian of his high school class and earned a perfect score on the SAT while at University Laboratory School in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is leaning toward orthopedics or neurosurgery.

“I know it sounds weird but I like putting things together,” he said. “I like doing things with my hands. I figure if I get to do that and get to help people while I’m doing it… there is really nothing else that combines that humanitarian aspect and hands-on approach. That is ultimately why I decided to go into medicine.”

Both Monk and Robinette cut their football careers short due to concussions.

“The best decision for my future and my interests moving forward in life would be to move forward in my medical career,” Robinette said. “Hopefully, one day I can come back and have the same effect on athletes the doctors here have had on me.”

These Commodores agree the student-athlete experience didn’t hinder their chances, but instead prepared them for the challenges ahead.

“That’s something I’ve really enjoyed about the student-athlete community—that we’re motivated to excel in both. I have a lot of respect for my fellow student-athletes and am amazed by the people I met through athletics. Steve, Alex and Patton are great guys and I’m excited to start med school with them,” Ewing said.