Aug. 7, 2015
- Read the June issue of Hawk Talk Monthly
- Download your Hawk Talk Monthly android app
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye iPhone/iPad app
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye android app
- Big Ten Network: Free Hawkeye Video
- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa senior Samantha Wagner majors in biomedical engineering and wants to attend medical school. Alex Meyer is a junior pursuing a degree in human physiology and chemistry. He, too, sees medical school in the future.
Wagner, from Marion, Iowa, and Meyer, from Pleasant Hill, Iowa, are like hundreds of students at the University of Iowa, well-known for its medical center. Where Wagner and Meyer differ from most is that they are also Division I athletes.
Daily life for Wagner, a diver, and Meyer, a wrestler, consists of practice, class, and maybe more practice. Flourishing in academia with such challenging requirements is no easy chore. Finding spare time to shadow health professionals was nothing more than a pipe dream.
Thanks to many parties — most notably Dr. Joseph Turek and UI head swimming coach Marc Long, and Andy Winkleman and Kara Park from student-athlete academic services — a summer program called Health C.A.R.E. (Career And Research Exposure) was created to allow UI student-athletes to shadow health care professionals when their schedule allows.
Twenty-one Hawkeyes participated in the most recent program. It included orientation in the spring and shadowing from June to August, with a lecture every Friday provided by various health care professionals.
The success of this unique program is described by three words: location, location, location.
“On the same physical campus on the west side of the river we have a world-class medical center in which we offer the entire spectrum of health care and premier graduate programs in each of the specialties of health care,” Turek said. “Then you also have elite Division I athletics that are over here on this campus in arguably the best conference in the country. We have these two giants and we don’t have any interaction between the two. So it seemed natural to start to offer this to more of the student-athletes and give them an opportunity.”
Turek witnessed a similar program while he was at Duke University, but that was just through the neurosciences department for two or three women’s basketball players.
“To my knowledge there is nothing anywhere else in the country like the program we have,” Turek said. “This is a one-of-a-kind thing.”
Long, Iowa’s head swimming coach since 2004, was the first coach to participate. Eight of the student-athletes in the 2015 program were from swimming and diving, three from rowing, three from track and field, two from women’s tennis, and one from men’s gymnastics, women’s gymnastics, spirit squad, and wrestling.
“You have this massive hospital that you drive by every day and now not only are you involved in seeing patients at times, they are heavily involved with meeting people who are working on these patients,” Long said. “It is such an amazing partnership to have a world-class hospital, university and athletics department coming together to provide opportunities for these student-athletes.”
All athletes are eligible to participate as long as they demonstrate interest in working in a health care field. An informal session was held in spring to explain and market the program. The student-athletes completed an application to indicate areas of interest and why they would be a good fit for the program. The athletes were then matched with at least one (most had three) health care professionals based on their interests.
“In order to get into medical school you need a lot of experience and job shadowing hours and they want to see that you have experience in different parts of medicine. Throughout the year when I’m busy with wrestling, it’s hard to get the hours other students might be able to get during the school year. In the summer they give us contacts where you can do a lot of job shadowing to see what we’re interested in and if there is a potential path that we’re thinking about. It gives us an opportunity to pursue and use the contacts at the hospital that are so close.”
UI 174-pound wrestler
“In order to get into medical school you need a lot of experience and job shadowing hours and they want to see that you have experience in different parts of medicine,” said Meyer, who wants to be a surgeon. “Throughout the year when I’m busy with wrestling, it’s hard to get the hours other students might be able to get during the school year. In the summer they give us contacts where you can do a lot of job shadowing to see what we’re interested in and if there is a potential path that we’re thinking about. It gives us an opportunity to pursue and use the contacts at the hospital that are so close.”
At the end of July, Meyer shadowed Dr. Brian Wolf, orthopedic surgeon and director of UI Sports Medicine Clinic. Wolf was a four-year scholarship men’s basketball player at Loyola (Chicago), so he recognizes the value of something as organized as Health C.A.R.E.
“I tagged along with my team doctor and hung out at the office, did some quasi-research projects during the summer and actually did go to surgery,” Wolf said of his college days. “I did that for three summers in a row because I knew I was interested in pre-med. It was good to see that side of it. It has a big influence on what you do. This is great. It is good to see smart athletes come around and take advantage of the system.”
One of the most advanced Health C.A.R.E. pupils is Wagner, who unofficially started shadowing in pediatric cardiology three years ago. After a second year of shadowing, she began doing research, and as of Aug. 6, had logged 185 hours of research in the summer of 2015.
Wagner is working on a project covering pediatric heart transplants because surgeons have switched their protocol the last 15-20 years.
“I am doing a retrospective study on how they have changed those things and how it has affected the outcomes of the patients,” Wagner said.
She has also worked closely with faculty members and if all goes well…
“Hopefully I will get a couple publications out of the research,” Wagner said.
Because of the wide spectrum of health offerings, UI student-athletes can better find a fit to their liking through Health C.A.R.E. Some students have even changed majors because of the experience they had with the program.
“It is rewarding for me because a lot of the undergraduates don’t know what they want to do,” Turek said. “I don’t think they realize the spectrum of health care opportunities that are out there. You can introduce an athlete to a field in health care they never knew existed and to peak their interest in something like that and in many cases find a better fit than what their conception was going into it.”
According to Turek, even though student-athletes are the biggest benefactor from the program, they aren’t the only ones who profit.
“These are truly disciplined student-athletes,” Turek said. “They come in and they have this motivation you don’t always see. Everybody feeds off their energy and enjoys having someone come in who are as enthusiastic as these people.”