Two former Western athletes soon will be entering the medical field after graduating from Marian University this month.
The two graduates, Hannah Christopher-Colby and Sybil Gill, both discussed how sports played a role in their college career and shaped their decisions to pursue medicine.
A 2011 graduate from Western, Christopher-Colby participated in tennis and golf for the Lady Panthers but found her real passion in dance. She began dancing at age 6 at with a local instructor Kari (Thomas) Neuhauser at Dance Elite’s “Kickin’ it with Kari,” learning ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, and jazz.
Performing at basketball halftime shows in Howard and Carroll Counties, along with at Pacers game, Christopher-Colby discovered that, no matter the style of dance, she always loved performing.
Knowing she wanted to continue her dance career after high school, Christopher-Colby first was drawn to the dance program at Ball State University. After auditioning, she was accepted into the Cardinals’ dance program where she ended up double-majoring in dance and biology.
Growing up with a father as a pharmacist and a mother as a nurse, Christopher-Colby always considered a career in medicine. During her time at Ball State University, she found she loved studying and learning about the human body. With the encouragement of her friends and medical field-filled family, Christopher-Colby decided to take on the field of medicine.
“With the encouragement of my family and friends, I decided to pursue medicine,” Christopher-Colby said. “My older sister, Kaitlyn, is a family medicine physician, and my younger sister, Laura, is in medical school, a year behind me. We sometimes joke about starting our own women’s center one day.”
Although it was difficult at times living a “double life” between both of her majors, as she would be studying biology note cards backstage before a performance, Christopher-Colby said her time as a Cardinal was some of the best years of her life.
Realizing the importance of the mind, body, and spirit after years of studying dance, Christopher-Colby chose Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine to earn her medical degree, while also being close to home.
At times, medical school was difficult, she said, but also gratifying. Once she began clinical rotations, Christopher-Colby realized the importance of her countless hours spent studying and was grateful for her support system.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without my support system. I am really thankful for my family and my husband Austin’s support. I have made so many friends along the way, and I couldn’t imagine my life without them,” Christopher-Colby said.
Another challenge Christopher-Colby faced was choosing a specialty. Although she could imagine herself as a psychiatrist, internist, or a family medicine physician, Christopher-Colby said her OB-GYN rotation locked in her decision.
“I fell in love with my OB-GYN rotation. I remember my first C-section like it was yesterday. When the baby was born, something clicked, and I thought to myself, ‘I could do this every day for the rest of my life,’” Christopher-Colby said.
Christopher-Colby finished her degree during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well, calling the experience “crazy.”
She remembered joking with her classmates about the possibility of their graduation being canceled. Not only was graduation canceled but also the remainder of the rotations was canceled. Although she was disappointed to miss out on those milestones, she said having family members affected by COVID-19 put things into perspective.
To celebrate her graduation, her family organized a drive-by ceremony with music for her.
Christopher-Colby matched into one of the best osteopathic programs in the country, the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency program at OhioHealth Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She will start the four-year program in mid-June. After becoming a board-certified OB-GYN, Christopher-Colby plans to return home to practice in Indiana.
A 2012 Western graduate, Gill was an avid golfer for the Lady Panthers. Spending time at Chippendale Golf Course, she grew up with other golfers who she continued to see throughout her years on the Western golf team. The community was always so supportive, Gill said.
“Western fosters this really wonderful community I feel like that just allows you to thrive. It’s just so encouraging when you have all these teachers from Western come back to congratulate me, like Mr. Larsh, just different people in the community. I really appreciate how inclusive of a community it is and how encouraging of a community it is,” Gill said.
According to her, golf taught her important life skills, including patience. Deciding she wanted to continue her golf career, Gill attended Valparaiso University while playing on the Crusaders’ golf team and double-majoring in biology and chemistry. Being drawn to the smaller community feel that Valparaiso University provided her, Gill reflected on that same feeling during her time at Western.
“I fell in love when I visited there with the campus and just the people were so kind. Once again, it’s interesting because I found myself going through that smaller community kind of feel. Because as Western fostered that, I found that’s where I really thrive and enjoy. So then, Valparaiso was like that same feeling. I went there and loved every minute of it,” Gill said.
During one summer, Gill interned at St. Vincent Hospital. One of her patients told Gill to think about what career she would pursue if she won the lottery. Whatever answer she came up with, the patient said, should be the career Gill pursued regardless of winning the lottery. Gill said she gave the question a lot of thought, and, after finishing the internship, she said she fell in love with helping others and providing assistance and relief to those going through rough times.
So, she decided to continue pursuing a career in medicine. Gill chose Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine to earn her medical degree. After feeling like the faculty and staff at the school truly wanted to see her succeed, Gill said she knew she made the right choice.
“It was such a wonderful feeling of them really wanting you to succeed. They really worked hard at helping you in whatever you needed. You weren’t just a number as everyone says. It’s cliché, but it’s true of many smaller schools,” Gill said.
When describing her journey through college, Gill said it was “beautiful” but “tough” at the same time. She was fortunate to have support from family and friends and had many mentors and role models who helped her through the difficult times, she said.
During her last two years of medical school, while she was participating in clinical rotations, Gill spent a lot of time at the Kokomo hospitals. Her experiences during those times made her realize the long hours of studying were worthwhile.
“I’m so excited to be practicing medicine,” Gill said. “I actually ended up doing a lot of my rotations in Kokomo … It really solidified my decision, and it really made my journey well worth it.”
Gill said she was a little disappointed by not being able to celebrate with her classmates for the final victory at graduation, but, being in the medical field, she understood why social distancing continued to be important. She said she was glad to do her part in preventing further spread of the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, she said it was exciting to see many of her classmates anxious to do their parts on the frontlines.
“A lot of my friends are actually going into fields where they’ll be on the frontlines, and it’s just kind of inspiring to see that we’re all super excited to get started, to help out as much as they can,” Gill said.
For the next three years, Gill will pursue her pediatric residency at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.