A Winding Highway of Expertise Leads Lifelong Learners by way of Medical College

Dottie Stearns’ highway to medical college curved throughout San Salvador Island within the Bahamas, the place she realized by way of learning Cyclura rileyi iguanas that it is attainable to outlive a mass extinction occasion by burrowing.

Her highway spanned the Sevietta Nationwide Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, the place she realized concerning the results of lowered rainfall on root biomass manufacturing of bouteloua grasses.

Winding by way of the backcountry throughout a College of Colorado Wilderness and Emergency Medication intensive coaching course, she realized the right way to acknowledge hypothermia and what to do about it in austere environments.

Since she was younger sufficient to recollect, Stearns has cherished studying and drawing classes from every alternative she pursued. Whether or not it was gleaning the finer factors of workforce synchronization as a cheerleader in highschool, understanding what makes mountaineering boots sturdy whereas working at REI, or practising psychological stillness by way of meditation close to the Dalai Lama’s dwelling in Dharamsala, India, she has gathered information from every step.

Regardless of, or maybe due to, its challenges, Stearns discovered the fitting slot in drugs. It provides her alternatives to be taught on daily basis, to contribute to rising our bodies of data, to be an advocate for many who might not have the ability to advocate for themselves, and to advertise points and concepts which are necessary to her.

As she graduates from the CU College of Medication this month and begins a seven-year common surgical procedure residency at The Ohio State College, she is retaining an open thoughts to be prepared for each alternative that comes her manner whereas wanting ahead to the self-discipline and focus of surgical procedure.


Dottie Stearns, left, will start her seven-year common surgical procedure residency at The Ohio State College in summer season 2022.

“I am excited for the following chapter,” Stearns says. “In drugs I really feel like I’ve discovered my group, and I really feel like I’ve begun to see the place I can play a job in advocating for underrepresented communities and serving to individuals discover a voice who might not have had one earlier than.”

Pursuing each alternative

Rising up within the suburbs exterior Atlanta, Georgia, Stearns laughingly admits that she was the nerdy child who was into robotics.

“My mother enrolled my sister and me in science camps and no matter alternatives got here our manner,” Stearns says. “She was very proactive about it and needed to provide us each alternative.”

In actual fact, Stearns’ mom was the primary in her household to attend school and had dreamed of attending medical college earlier than being roadblocked by its prohibitive expense. Stearns grew up with the thought of ​​medical college all the time behind her thoughts, however there have been all the time so many issues to be inquisitive about.

As an undergraduate at Emory College, her favourite professor was a paleontologist who research, amongst different issues, mass extinction occasions and animal scat. Throughout her first semester she took his mixed neuroscience behavioral biology and environmental science class and thought that was the trail she’d pursue as a result of “it incorporates extra of a worldwide, macro scale view of the world and I am a really big-picture particular person , even though I am going into surgical procedure,” she explains.

She studied iguanas within the Bahamas with this professor, and far as iguana populations have advanced, Stearns observed how her personal pursuits had been step by step evolving, too – from researching root biomass of native grasses in New Mexico to shadowing Tibetan physicians in Dharamsala.

She pursued her Bachelor of Science and Grasp of Public Well being levels by way of a twin program that allowed her to focus on environmental well being for her graduate research. As an Oak Ridge Institute for Science Schooling (ORISE) fellow within the Air Air pollution and Respiratory Well being Department of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, she expanded her understanding of how the macro should stability the micro and the way “the issues we do as people are necessary, however we nonetheless must advocate for coverage change at extra society-wide ranges,” she says.

Advocating for underrepresented communities

It was whereas pursuing analysis throughout her graduate research and ORISE fellowship that Stearns started circling again to the thought of ​​attending medical college. She had researched how historically underrepresented communities are disproportionately impacted by air air pollution, and started to see how, as a doctor, she may assist and advocate for these communities.

As a Black lady, she felt strongly that she could possibly be a job mannequin for members of underrepresented communities pursuing medical training. She has served because the Medical Pupil Council government president, which allowed her not solely to attach with administration, school, and workers, however to take part in varied panels and discussions.

“I believe it is useful for individuals to see me be locations, for different college students who appear to be me to see themselves mirrored in these positions,” Stearns says. “It is not all the time the simplest accountability, essentially, however I believe that illustration is necessary so I am prepared to shoulder it.”

As she entered scientific work through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she welcomed the obligations of practising drugs. Whereas she loved every of her rotations by way of the varied medical specialties, even picturing attainable careers in every of them, she gravitated most towards surgical procedure.

“I believe one of many explanation why I like surgical procedure is as a result of it requires a technical aptitude that jogs my memory of drought publicity analysis I did, of labor within the botany lab, that was extra hands-on and technical,” she explains. “On the similar time, you even have the mental pursuit of medication that I really like.”

Throughout a pediatric surgical rotation at Washington College in St. Louis, Missouri, she gained expertise in what she believes will develop into her profession path.

“I really like pediatrics as a result of I really like youngsters, and I really like interacting with pediatric sufferers,” Stearns says. “I believe as a result of they’re so younger of their well being journey there are alternatives for intervention with preventative drugs. They’re additionally a weak inhabitants in some methods as a result of they can not advocate for themselves, so there could be alternatives to be concerned with advocacy as nicely.”

Leaving with the talents to do good

Stearns emphasizes that as she begins her residency, she hesitates to state the precise profession path she would possibly pursue as a result of she desires to stay open to all the chances she’s going to encounter. Nonetheless, typically phrases, wanting 20 or 30 years down the highway, “I wish to be chair of a division,” she says. “There are so few Black pediatric surgeons that I wish to be among the many few, and to be able the place I can impact change and work with various, distinctive learners.”

Till she heads to Ohio this summer season, she is taking alternatives to hike and ski and spend time with buddies. She additionally has mirrored on the earlier 4 years and the surprising turns that her highway has taken.


Dottie Stearns has all the time cherished the outside and plenty of features of her training have occurred outdoor.

“That is very a lot one of many hardest issues I’ve ever carried out,” she says. “It is challenged me intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, but it surely’s been life altering. I’ve related with like-minded people and seen that regardless of the place the highway takes me, I am leaving this expertise with the talents to do some good.”

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