Emily Westergard ’12 knew she wanted to enter the medical profession following Colorado College. Her three years as a student trainer with CC Sports Medicine left the now fourth-year medical student with no doubt.
“During my time working as a student trainer, my love for medicine and helping people return to doing what they love only grew,” she says. “My hands-on experience working with athletes, diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses, helped provide me with the confidence to continue in pursuing my dream career.”
While not formally connected, the two-year-old human biology and kinesiology minor and other pre-med, pre-physical therapy, or pre-physician assistant coursework at CC complement the hands-on lessons learned by the 32 student trainers, says head athletic trainer Thomas Monagan.
“They have that interest and knowledge and they ask smart questions of us,” Monagan says, adding that previous lectures and labs help the students understand what they’re seeing and doing. “There is no better way to learn human anatomy than hands-on experience. We are always happy to see our student trainers move on into the health professions and know that we, their professors, classes, and especially the excellent anatomy lab we have at CC helped them along the way.”
Becoming a student trainer involves a lengthy application process, including interviews — held during the spring for the upcoming academic year — along with the necessary completed coursework.
“The classes have helped me immensely with understanding aspects of anatomy and physiology in a clinical setting,” says men’s soccer player Cameron Stopforth ’18, who plans to become a physical therapist after graduating with a molecular biology degree this May. “Having a background knowledge of these topics has allowed me to better perform tasks of the job such as stretching, using modalities, and aiding in rehab.”
It was much the same for Westergard. Serving as a trainer exposed her to a multitude of injuries ranging in severity, along with treatment plans for long-term injuries that allow athletes to continue competing, she says.
“The injuries and illnesses I was exposed to, along with the teaching provided by our excellent Sports Medicine staff, helped make these presentations and diagnoses stick with me,” she says. To this day I can still recall specific athletes’ injuries and stories; this has helped me many times in diagnosing patients I now see in clinic.
“All these things prepared me well for the expectations and hard work that medical school requires, and continue to benefit me as I now prepare for residency this summer,” adds Westergard, who graduated with a biology degree.
The combination of classwork and hands-on experience also helps those who do not go directly into medical school, like Hannah Quick ’17, co-winner of the 2017 Mahony Award. The Mahony Award is presented to a CC senior who works for Sports Medicine while studying in the pre-med, pre-physical therapy, or pre-physician assistant programs and achieving a minimum 3.25 grade point average.
Quick plans to enter medical school in 2019. Her interest in sports medicine was sparked by a high school athletics career that also led to 13 right ankle sprains, and the necessary surgery that followed to tighten the ligament, which greatly improved her quality of life.
Stopforth also has an increased appreciation for the value of athletic trainers after four seasons as a CC athlete. He has learned training requires far more than taping ankles.
“The help that the athletic trainers and physical therapist have provided to students on all teams is unbelievable,” the senior says. “Whether it’s mitigating injuries for the upcoming weekend’s game or helping with post-surgery rehabs, honestly the teams at CC would have very few healthy players by the end of a season if we did not have the training staff.”
For Quick, working as a student trainer for two-and-a-half years allowed her to stay involved in sports while preparing for her career under the supervision of certified athletic trainers. She thrived in that environment.
“Working with the hockey team motivated me to obtain my EMT-B certification so that I could become more involved with treatment and gain more general knowledge about emergency response,” Quick says. “My boss, [hockey trainer] Jason Bushie, was also a great teacher, and showed me how to perform clinical examinations and basic diagnostic tests on the athletes.”
That experience with patients is invaluable in her current role as a clinical research assistant in the Children’s Hospital Colorado Spine Program in Aurora.
“Every day, I get to interact with patients and their families and ask research-related questions pertaining to varying levels of spine and chest wall deformities,” she says. “At CC, I learned how to appropriately validate an athlete’s concern about their injury, while also providing assurance about their treatment plan and recovery. In the pediatric field, this skill has become very useful when working with concerned parents whose children are about to undergo spinal fusion surgery.”
CC’s challenging coursework and academic opportunities here and abroad also proved beneficial. Quick’s final course at CC visited various Scandinavian institutions including the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Institute of Sports Medicine Copenhagen in Denmark.
“There, I was able to learn about cutting-edge research in the sports medicine field, which included bench research that also complemented my biochemistry background,” the biochemistry graduate says. “My coursework at CC, combined with my experiences working in the healthcare field, have solidified my desire to become a doctor.”
CC’s anatomy lab gave Westergard a leg up on her fellow medical students, many of whom entered the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tennessee with no prior experience dissecting cadavers, says the former CC anatomy teaching assistant and hockey neuropsychology intern.
“Many people are amazed when I say that medical school has been easier for me than my undergraduate training, but it is true!” Westergard says. “The Block Plan accompanied by my student training experience was the perfect method to prepare me for learning high volumes of information in a very short amount of time while keeping a balance between school and normal life.
“Without the skills and knowledge gained through this wonderful experience, I would not be where I am today.”