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April 20, 2015

It all started with a dead body.

“I really thought when I was coming in to Virginia that I was going to stay with Division I lacrosse and be a coach somewhere after I graduated, but things change when you get to college,” senior Courtney Swan said. “My first year, I took anatomy and physiology and I think that’s when I really fell in love with the biological process. Then the more classes like that that I took, the more I really wanted to know more. My second year, I took the cadaver lab which is offered through the kinesiology major, which was awesome. I think I really realized then I could [pursue a medical career] because I handled being around the cadavers and I was completely fine with it.”

The cadaver lab was just a starting point for Swan who then started shadowing surgeons and specialists while they were working with patients.

“The first opportunity I had was with a general surgeon who lives in my neighborhood in Florida,” Swan said. “He not only let me shadow him, but he set me up with five specialties. I got to watch heart surgery, an ear, nose and throat doctor, a cardiologist and a plastic surgeon. In the operating room, there is a sterile environment and a non-sterile environment. Where the anesthesiologist is, I would stand behind there on a stool and look over, which was great. For general surgery it’s a lot more open so you can see a lot clearer, but for the hand surgery it’s a lot harder because things are small. So I try to maneuver around the room but you also can’t touch anything blue [the sterile environment].

“Heart surgery was so intense. That’s something I just can’t see myself doing. It was four high-strung hours where everything in the room was so tense and rigid. It almost was indescribable.”

In addition to her regular class work this year, Swan is shadowing Dr. Chhabra, the head of Orthopedics and a hand specialist at the UVa Medical Center. “Shadowing Dr. Chhabra has been awesome,” Swan said. “He lets me come in to clinic on Wednesdays and I’m in the operating room all day Friday. I feel so lucky to have been able to see some amazing procedures. Last week, there was a 14-month-old child who had polydactyly – he had two thumbs. They removed one of the thumbs and realigned the remaining one so he will grow up like nothing ever happened. It was amazing and was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Swan is gravitating toward pursuing an emphasis in orthopedics, especially with a focus on sports and athletics injuries, but has not completely settled on which specialty she will eventually pursue. She is certain, however, that she will using the funds she received from winning the prestigious Weaver-James-Corrigan ACC Postgraduate scholarship to finance a portion of medical school, but just not right away as she plans to take a year off before starting her studies.

“I’m taking a bridge year because applying actually takes almost a full calendar year,” Swan explained. “I’ll apply in May to pretty much every school south of Maryland, especially Virginia and the Florida schools. I hope to stay in Charlottesville and do some research while I’m submitting the application.”

Swan, who last year was the second-ever Virginia student-athlete to earn the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award (an honor bestowed on the individual with the highest GPA among all student-athletes at a national championship) as well as earning IWLCA All-America honors for her play on the field, is not predisposed to sitting around idly between med school interviews.

“My plan is to work at the UVa Medical Center while I’m waiting,” Swan said. “I met with a few physicians in the pediatric nephrology unit at UVa who are doing a lot of research with trying to count nephrons in the kidney to better diagnose chronic kidney disease. I’m still waiting to hear if we can get grants so it can be a paid position, helping them with the data and research.”

As for lacrosse, Swan was a member of the 2014-15 U.S. Women’s National Team and plans to try out again for the 2015-16 squad.

“I’m really not ready for lacrosse to end quite yet,” Swan said. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do once it does. I’m going to have to find another outlet. And I’ll obviously try to stay involved with the UVa team as much as I can.”

The senior co-captain knows there is still plenty of lacrosse left for her this season.

“Making it to the Final Four last year was truly the highlight of my career,” Swan said. “Being able to snap that nine-game losing streak against North Carolina by defeating them on their home field was huge and really big for our team. We took that next step and showed people that we are there.”

The Florida native has come a long way from being a soccer-playing youngster in Vero Beach to leaving her name all over the Virginia career record book. Swan, who currently ranks second in program history in draw controls, ranks in the Cavalier top-10 in assists and is poised to enter the top-10 in goals and points before the end of her career.

“I didn’t start playing lacrosse until I was in sixth grade,” Swan recalled. “My sister, Lauren, introduced me to the sport because our high school had just created a program and they actually recruited the cheerleaders to come and fill in the spots. So she was doing cheerleading and she picked up lacrosse and then started playing and then I followed her lead.”

Her sister may have gotten her into the sport, but there is a list of people she would like to thank for helping her thrive in it all these years.

“First and foremost I want to thank my parents. They travel so much to come to all of my games and I cannot thank them enough, just for supporting me in everything I’ve done growing up and to this day. I want to thank the coaches for pushing me to my limits, not only academically but also physically. I want to thank all the coaches that I have had. Growing up, my high school coach really pushed me and knew that I could get to this point, so that’s really helped. Also I want to thank Bryce, he’s just my support system and really motivates me. Lastly, I want to thank [athletic trainer] Blair [Moore] for keeping me together this year. It’s been tough. She tapes me up and keeps me from falling apart, so I really appreciate everything that she has done for me.”

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