Caroline Erickson is on the road to becoming a doctor

Guided by internal motivation for personal fulfillment and to help others, the Outstanding Graduating Senior counts down the days to medical school.

Caroline Erickson was back home in West Des Moines, Iowa, on a much-deserved summer break from school, internships, and volunteer work when we caught up with her. She said she was bored over the telephone interview, though she takes hot yoga classes four times a week, runs and hikes, and continues work on her research paper about poliovirus-infected cells.

“I don’t like to be bored,” said Erickson, who was on the Dean’s List eight times during her tenure at Arizona State University. “I like to be busy even on the weekends. Friends and family would say I’m driven and stubborn, but I think of myself as kind and caring for other people.”

No truer words could be shared about the Barrett honor student, who continually stayed busy as a double major in biological sciences and business entrepreneurship while interning and volunteering in several health care and business environments.

Erickson, who is a Presidential Scholarship recipient, said that her degree at the W. P. Carey School of Business gave her many different leadership and management skills that will prepare her for a career as a trauma surgeon. “I’ll have to lead big teams of physicians and run the emergency department efficiently. You learn nothing about hospital administration in medical school,” she said.

Stepping stones to medical leadership

“I can honestly say that I have never seen a student committed to so many outside activities that have handled them as well as Caroline has,” wrote Kurt Gustin, associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Phoenix in his nomination letter for Erickson to be honored as the Turken Family Outstanding Graduating Senior. “While working in the lab and going to school full-time, Caroline also volunteered weekends with the American Red Cross. She pulled all-nighters as an emergency department intern. She shadowed physicians at the Mayo Clinic. She volunteered as an emergency medical specialist, and served as a student mentor and ambassador at the ASU School of Life Sciences. And these are just the ones I remember. There is more, I’m sure.”

More activities did keep Erickson active, including being a genetics teaching assistant at the School of Life Sciences and working as a research assistant at the Cartwright Computational Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics Lab in Tempe, Ariz. She also volunteered at Circle the City long-term care facility for the homeless, checked patients into the Mae E. Davis Free Medical Clinic, and coordinated community service activities for the Biology Student Association.

“Caroline just handled it all and got the jobs done smoothly and professionally and with extremely high-quality and attention to detail,” Gustin wrote. “The organization and ability to complete tasks efficiently will help Caroline to succeed when faced with the demands associated with medical school and, ultimately, of being a successful physician.”

Besides the book knowledge, and the hands-on experiences her volunteer work and internships provided, Erickson is a certified emergency medical technician, phlebotomy technician, and Red Cross Water Safety Instructor. She also earned a Basic Life Saving for Healthcare Providers certification.

“I was deeply impressed with Caroline’s academic performance, including her exam performance, paper write-ups, case contributions, and team projects,” wrote Professor of Management Peter Hom in his nomination letter for Erickson. “I am equally impressed that she can perform so well throughout all classes (including pre-medical classes), while participating in many hospital and research internships. She has surely accumulated one of the highest GPAs among all management majors (while completing a dual major in science). I don’t doubt that she will be admitted to medical school, including some of the best ones.”

Erickson had already been excepted to Northwestern University, Washington University, and the University of Iowa in March. And she was waiting to hear from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Baylor University, and Johns Hopkins University following interviews.

A pause pre-med school?

Starting in July and for the first time since beginning her undergraduate degrees, Erickson will focus on one role: as a medical student at Vanderbilt University. There will be less time for internships or volunteering, as “there will be no summer breaks and a very packed four years,” she said.

Until then, she’s already back to work for the month of June, three to four weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s her second summer in a row working at ChildServe in Johnston, Iowa, assisting special-needs children to reach their day-to-day goals and providing basic care for those with special health care requirements. Erickson said this job is a natural progression for her, “as mom was a special needs teacher during my elementary years when I helped the children with physical education,” she said, “and it fits my schedule. It’s challenging at times, but I have fun and laugh all the time.”

College credit before college

In many ways, Erickson’s leadership story began in high school. She was in an honors program and took general education courses during her junior and senior years, earning 80 college credits. This freed her time to get the hands-on health care experiences that ultimately brought on the ah-ha moment she needed.

“Toward the end of my sophomore year at ASU, I realized that I wanted to pursue medicine,” she said. But it was during her junior year when Erickson shadowed an emergency room doctor that she knew she loved it.

“Give yourself time at the beginning to explore,” Erickson recommends to incoming freshman. “Take several different classes, get involved in a variety of activities before you decide which path is for you.”