From Dancer to Doctor

Katie Pivarnik, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

Photo by Mike Tesi
Photo by Mike Tesi

Loving the physicality of my work as a dancer and becoming intimately acquainted with the muscles, tendons, and joints I used and abused, I never imagined exploring another profession that could be equally satisfying. Because of my intellectual curiosity, I enrolled in college courses throughout my dance career. In the LEAP Program, a dance-focused anatomy and kinesiology course at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries awakened me to the idea that through medicine I could further explore my interest in the human body.

In 2009, my husband, also a dancer, suffered a serious knee injury, and the trajectory of my life changed dramatically. His injury was incapacitating, and I instantly became his caregiver.

Volunteering at Overlook Medical Center in New Jersey, I met a man who was lamenting the fact his Parkinson’s symptoms were preventing him from playing tennis, his favorite activity. Drawing a parallel between this man’s love of tennis and my husband’s and my love of dance, I understood how heartbreaking it is to be thwarted from pursuing one’s passion, and I was hopeful the right combination of medications would help him back to the tennis court. I also met a woman who had been caring for her father-in-law, whose Parkinson’s was progressing rapidly. She admitted to feeling exhausted and helpless. Empathizing with her, I realized I felt the same fulfilling connection with this woman as I have felt with audiences. In this moment I was not just a dancer. I wanted to be a doctor.

Katie Pivarnik will begin studying at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in August 2013.
Katie will begin studying at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in August 2013.

With scholarships from the Caroline H. Newhouse Fund and the Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies at Career Transition For Dancers, I completed my prerequisite science courses through the rigorous Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program at Columbia University, and starting in August, 2013, will begin medical school at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. I am grateful to CTFD for their financial support and for the guidance I have received through career transition workshops and online resources, all of which emphasize the amazing transferability of dancers’ wealth of knowledge and unique attributes.

The transition from dancer to doctor may seem dramatic. Yet, I find the professions quite similar.  Perfecting the art of ballet involves many of the same challenges as practicing the art of medicine, and both demand the same level of dedication and perseverance. Each one also provides the opportunity to impact people’s lives. It is my hope that through medical education I will be able to contribute to people’s health and well-being more profoundly than I ever could on stage.


One thought on “From Dancer to Doctor

  1. Just found this. I am currently a dance major (two years in) and have recently begun to consider medical school. Very inspiring! It’s nice to know that someone has actually done this before!

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