By Michelle Hiskey
At the very heart of medicine is the defense of life itself. Seeing that power very personally early on in her college career made Duke senior middle blocker/outside hitter Sophia Dunworth want to become a doctor. She took advantage of a special support program for female athletes who are premed.
“Before coming to college, medicine was only a secondary possibility,” said Dunworth, who was set on a career related to biology because the “incredible complexity and perfection of life” fascinated her.
“Then, during my first two years of college, the illness of one of my friends, and then of my mom, directed me completely toward a career in medicine,” Dunworth said. “Without the doctor who discovered her aneurysm and the surgeon who replaced her aorta, my mom might not have been around to see my sister's wedding or my graduation this May."
As she compiled a 3.9 grade point average in biology, Dunworth tapped into CAPE (Collegiate Athlete Pre-Medical Experience), a program for Duke female athletes and selected campus leaders.
Dunworth takes part in: twice-monthly meetings on current medical topics or basic procedures; weekly opportunities to shadow the doctors at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center; and a six-week internship at the Duke Medical Center.
“When I feel unsure that I will ever make it to or through med school or that I will be able to become a confident and caring physician, CAPE meetings always help re-establish my commitment and confidence that medicine is an achievable and worthwhile goal,” Dunworth said. “The program is continually inspiring… I know that I will be a better physician because of it.”
As a service project, Dunworth got involved with FACT (First Aid for Children Today), where she taught elementary students the fundamentals of first aid, health and nutrition as part of their after school curriculum. She helped raise money for multiple sclerosis research and breast cancer awareness.
On the court, Dunworth helped lead the Blue Devils to four straight NCAA Tournaments, win 20 matches each year and two conference championships. She recorded 1,291 career kills.
A California native, Dunworth plans to take a year off before med school. She’ll carry the teamwork from volleyball into medicine, along with athleticism.
“As an athlete, I know my own body well,” she said. “This intuitive sense of my own body helps my understanding of human physiology and anatomy in general.”
While she is unsure of her specialty, Dunworth is sure of her desire to save others from pain and discomfort.
“I strive to have that kind of purpose and effect by becoming a doctor,” she said. “I think it is the best opportunity I have to make a positive impact on the quality of life of those around me.”
Michelle Hiskey is a freelance writer and a former golf student-athlete at Duke.