Volume 94, No.3, May-June 2008

Sports

Athletes in Training—As Future Doctors

Outstanding in their fields: athlete-scholars Beasley and Bischof, from left, with mentor Henry Friedman.
Outstanding in their fields: athlete-scholars Beasley and Imbesi, from left, with mentor Henry Friedman.
Les Todd

The first time Johanna Bischof '05, M.D. '10 examined a brain-tumor patient, she was shaking with nervousness-she was also still an undergraduate. "You don't know what you're supposed to say. You're in this room with someone who most likely has a life-threatening terminal illness," she remembers. "I'd go in there wrapped up in my college world of sports and academics, and I'd walk out with a completely different mindset."

In the fall of 2004, while she was preparing to apply to medical school, the former Duke field-hockey player performed physical examinations and collected patient histories as one of the first participants in the Collegiate Athlete Pre-Medical Experience (CAPE), America's only premedical mentoring program for female student-athletes.

CAPE has its origins in a mentoring relationship that began in 1999 between Georgia Schweitzer, then a sophomore basketball player, and Henry Friedman, the James B. Powell Jr. Professor of neuro-oncology at Duke Medical Center. Today, Georgia Schweitzer Beasley '01, M.D. '08 is a newly minted graduate of Duke's medical school preparing to begin a surgical residency at Duke, and Friedman, her mentor, is the founding co-director of CAPE, which serves forty-eight undergraduates, has its own staff director and twenty-six-member advisory board, and functions as a major recruiting tool for Duke's athletics department. (CAPE's other co-director, Allan Friedman-no relation to Henry-is Guy L. Odom Professor of neurological surgery at the medical center.) "We didn't predict it to be this size when we began," says Friedman, who is the deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. "We didn't anticipate the unique reception we would be given."

Thirty of CAPE's students are female varsity athletes; the program attracts a disproportionate number of swimmers and lacrosse players, says CAPE associate director Terry Kruger. The remaining participants are a combination of Baldwin Scholars and several male students who "got in through a variety of connections," Friedman says. Students can enter the program beginning in the fall of their sophomore year, and they spend their first semester shadowing physicians, performing new-patient consultations, and observing craniotomies at the Tisch Brain Tumor Center. Other activities include dinners with female medical students and physicians, a yearly lecture by Sandy Williams M.D. '74, dean of the medical school, and a monthly journal club, where CAPE students discuss articles related to medical ethics and the art of balancing a medical career with raising a family.

Coaches are aware of CAPE's drawing power for female athletes. "It's an amazing recruiting tool, because if you're premed and you're already looking at Duke, you have good grades, time-management skills, and you're a good athlete," Friedman says. "But Duke is the only place that has a program like this." He and Kruger are often asked to meet with top athletes during their recruiting visits. One such recruit was Kimberly Imbesi, now a Duke junior and the starting goalie on the women's lacrosse team. As a high-school All-American out of Bridgetown, New Jersey, Imbesi narrowed her college choices to Georgetown and Duke, both powerhouses in women's lacrosse.

"On my recruiting visit, I actually met with Dr. Friedman and one of the physician assistants, and it was one of my deciding factors to come here," Imbesi says. Since entering CAPE, Imbesi has helped neurosurgeons examine patients and has traveled to Guatemala with two other students on a medical mission trip last summer. This year, she will return to Guatemala with Kruger, seven additional CAPE protégées, and Kathryn Andolsek, a physician who is associate director of graduate medical education at the medical school. The Guatemala mission will continue growing, Kruger says, until "little by little we'll get there, and it will be run entirely by CAPE kids."

CAPE's biggest challenge has been finding financial support. The program relies entirely on funding from parents, anonymous donors (including a current patient at the Tisch Brain Tumor Center), and the Tug McGraw Foundation. "We have no sustained funding from anywhere," Friedman says. "Not Duke, not the athletics department." Despite these challenges, Beasley claims she has not been surprised by CAPE's success "with someone like Henry behind it." Friedman's first CAPE apprentice has stayed involved with the program, attending the journal club and advising current undergraduates. "The most rewarding part of it is there are several CAPE graduates who are in Duke Medical School now," Beasley says. "I'm sort of their unofficial adviser in terms of tests and books."