Before Title IX, before athletic scholarships were offered to women, Ann Hutcheson shined on the tennis court as one of the first female athletes at Vanderbilt.
She was a three-time Tennessee State Collegiate Singles champion and reached the Sweet 16 of the National Women's Tennis Tournament in 1970 and 1971. Despite a busy athletics schedule, she graduated in three years and earned an induction into Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest honor society for liberal arts and sciences.
Then after playing professional tennis, she decided to embark on a career as a physician. And the funny thing is for Hutcheson - now Dr. Ann Price - she found that during her four years at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, she actually had more free time than she was used to.
She says life as a Vanderbilt student-athlete helped prepare her for the obstacles and challenges that medical school threw at her.
Steve Monk, also a former Commodore athlete, certainly hopes that still rings true. "I think all of us who wanted to get into medical school knew that it was going to be a sacrifice," Monk said. "If we were able to put in that sacrifice in undergrad I think that will set us up here in medical school. And being disciplined with our time and knowing when we really have to crack down on our work and when we can let up a little bit."
On July 15, four recent Vanderbilt student-athletes arrived for orientation for the Vanderbilt School of Medicine - former football players Patton Robinette, Alex Hysong and Monk and men's cross country standout John Ewing.
Just 88 applicants were accepted for Vanderbilt School of Medicine's 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.
"It is a phenomenal thing," athletic director David Williams said. "In the first year, there are four kids who are going to be in that med school - a great medical school. We're talking about a world-class medical school where almost five percent of the entering played sports at this school. That is amazing as far as I'm concerned. That's remarkable. That is an indication that you can do it all."
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 Vanderbilt's School of Medicine. For some, becoming a doctor was a childhood dream. For others, that path was made clearer after arriving at Vanderbilt. Either way, Williams tries to get interested student-athletes in front of Dr. Ann Price 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 understands what awaits prospective med students. More importantly, she knows how the application process works at Vanderbilt and other medical schools. She meets with interested Vanderbilt students, Vanderbilt student-athletes and students from other area colleges.
"It really takes some time. You have to think through this and be ready to apply. You really have to start getting ready when you're a freshman," Price said. "I'm really proud of the student-athletes who came through this time who really hit the ground running and then prepared themselves in a marvelous way to be ready to apply. 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 an MD. A chemical engineering major, the Atlanta native liked the science and biology involved. Plus, 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 knew back in high school he wanted to be a doctor. With both parents as dentists, he was exposed to healthcare at a young age. The native of Bethesda, Md., heads into medical school with an open mind but says he could point toward a career in orthopedic surgery, emergency medicine and ophthalmology, among others. Fortunately, he has been able to get a taste of a lot of specialties. 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, compiling a multitude of research and job shadowing under their belts. For Hysong, the experiences have been extremely beneficial. He has interned at the National Institute of Health, at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and at clinics in Nashville and back in Maryland with a range of specialties from pediatric orthopedic surgeon to an allergist to ophthalmologist.
But his time researching under Dr. Mark Kelley, a surgical oncologist, was extremely influential. He shadowed Kelley in the operating room and followed him when he saw patients at the Vanderbilt Breast Center and the Melanoma Program in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
"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, who wrote about the experience for his personal statement on his medical school application. "Especially in that field when clearly nobody is going to be there for any small issue. It is always going to be something they are very nervous about and something they really have to put their trust in their doctor's hands. To see him give people hope and having a patient come in and him saying, 'Looks like you're in remission. Looks like surgery went perfectly fine. I don't see any traces of the cancer.' Seeing the hope that gave patients was pretty impactful for me."
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 and earned a perfect score on the SAT while at University Laboratory School in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La., 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."
Watching how the doctors vigilantly worked to try to save his grandfather from a fateful bout with Parkinson's disease, Robinette's career choice became apparent.
"That really spoke to me, even at that age," said Robinette, a native of Maryville, Tenn. "I made sure I worked really hard in high school and when I got here to work toward that goal in the hopes of eventually being able to have that same effect on people's lives."
Both Monk and Robinette cut their football careers short due to concussions. Monk walked on to the football team and played for two years but suffered a concussion during bowl practice in 2012. After the symptoms lingered for a couple months, he decided to walk away from football. Robinette faced a similar decision this past spring and weighed the options of coming back for his redshirt junior season - even seeking advice from Monk.
"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."
Beginning this new phase with three of their fellow Commodores doesn't surprise any of them. Their student-athlete experience didn't hinder their chances, but instead prepared them for the challenges ahead.
"Some of those are the most disciplined, motivated and engaged students I've met," Ewing said. "That's something I've really enjoyed about the student-athlete community - that we're motivated to excel in both. I'm not surprised at all. I have a lot of respect for my fellow student-athletes and 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."