Ghidotti student to hone surgical skills at Stanford program
In the fifth grade, while her peers were heading to the mall or the movie theater, Sophie McMurry was saving her allowance to purchase surgical text books. She’d flip through the pages, trying to figure out what the different medical terms meant.
For Christmas, the then-11-year-old asked her mother for a suture kit. After some lessons from a doctor friend of the family, McMurry set about stitching up anything she could get her hands on — including the family’s leftover turkey on Thanksgiving and banana peels discarded at the breakfast table.
“As a kid I would always offer to suture up paper cuts, saying, ‘you know, I could fix this,’” McMurry, now 16, said, laughing. “No one ever took me up.”
Despite not finding a willing patient among family and friends, her fascination with medicine continued to grow.
“There’s something really interesting in being able to know how we all work,” McMurry said. “There’s always something more to learn and challenge yourself with.”
The junior at Ghidotti Early College High School is poised to take on her most exciting challenge yet. She was recently accepted into a summer internship program at Stanford University’s Cardiothoracic Surgical Skills and Education Center.
The aspiring cardiothoracic surgeon will spend four weeks on the Palo Alto campus, listening to lectures on topics such as cardiac anatomy, heart transplants and valvular heart disease, and participating in technical skills trainings, including porcine heart dissection and simulated aortic valve replacement.
The highly competitive program is open to high school students older than 16 and pre-med college students worldwide. McMurry was one of 144 students accepted to the program.
It’s a goal she’s been working toward since the seventh grade, when she first read about the internship while doing research on the university’s website.
“I remember thinking, this is so cool,” McMurry said. “It’s been pretty much a waiting game and doing a lot of stuff in the meantime to apply.”
She’s spent the past several years seeking out ways to gain more experience in the medical field. When McMurry moved from Kentucky to California three years ago with her mother and older sister, she chose to attend the Ananda Living Wisdom School in Nevada City for her eighth-grade year, partly because the school offered her the opportunity to intern at a local family clinic where she learned to run an electrocardiogram machine, take vital signs and complete patient history charts.
At age 13, she traveled to Thailand on a service trip with her family to help rehabilitate elephants.
During the trip, the teenager lobbied hard to be one of the caretakers for an abandoned baby elephant on-site; she would spend up to 13 hours a day with the elephant, feeding it and administering medicine.
And last summer, she traveled to Tanzania with volunteer organization Projects Abroad and spent a month interning at three different local hospitals, doing significant outreach to increase access to medical care for women in the community.
Those experiences allowed her to develop an emotional connection to the medical field, she said, and helped her define her goals beyond studying concepts and theories.
“It’s one thing to read about the heart or medicine out of a book and get blank definitions, but if you can actually experience it to some degree, you get a better sense of where help is needed and where your own passion lies in that field,” she said.
She feels fortunate to have had those experiences – but noted it hasn’t always been easy to convince others that she’s serious about her goals or could handle the responsibility that comes along with them.
She said oftentimes, when she would express her long-term goals or aspirations to others, their first response was skeptical.
“I had big old dreams and I got a lot of, ‘that’s nice,’ and pats on the back,” McMurry said.
But McMurry used those doubts as motivation to reach her goal.
“I wanted to prove them wrong and I wanted to show them that this is my passion and I was able to hold on to it,” she said.
Her acceptance to Stanford’s program validated that hard work. McMurry said she started crying when she got the email notifying her that she was in.
“It’s kind of like a childhood dream coming true,” she said.
She’s looking forward to spending time with other students who have similar career goals and interests to hers.
And she hopes the program will serve as an introduction to a longer stay on the Stanford campus; she’d like to attend college there the year after next.
In the meantime, she said, she’ll continue to seek out opportunities to develop her skills and interests. She’s currently working with JUAf, a Tanzanian nonprofit, to bring contraceptive access and information to women in the East African country.
Ultimately, she said, it’s the desire to improve the lives of others that drives her toward a career in medicine.
“I’m able to help people every day with something they wouldn’t be able to do and dedicating my time and my future to the service of others, which I think is a beautiful thing,” she said.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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