Practice makes perfect

Rachel Donaldson ’13 pursues her passions for medicine and music

March 14, 2013 | Carol Anne Winchester

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by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

Rachel Donaldson spent her summer pushing stretchers, assisting surgeons, fetching food and water, and offering a listening ear to strangers in a New York City hospital. The hours were long, the work was challenging, and no paychecks ever came. Still, the Furman senior describes her internship at Bellevue Hospital as a defining time of her life.

The decision to spend ten weeks at a bustling urban hospital might seem like an unusual one, especially for a music major who can play ten musical instruments, ranging from the banjo to the baritone saxophone.

While Donaldson claims music as her passion, she has decided to make medicine her life’s work. At Furman, she’s been able to pursue both.

“Furman is exactly where I needed to be,” Donaldson says. “It has created so many opportunities for me to explore my diverse interests.”

Donaldson’s love of music began at an early age. As a child growing up in Brentwood, Tenn., she and her two younger sisters made playing the piano part of their daily routine.

“I just come alive to music,” said Donaldson, who earned a music scholarship to attend Furman.

As an undergraduate student, she has played in every musical ensemble she could and was one of six winners of the Furman University Concerto Competition as a sophomore. She placed as first chair saxophonist in the South Carolina Intercollegiate Honor Band earlier this year. Donaldson also plays the guitar and coordinates the live music for worship services Thursdays for the Reformed University Fellowship.

“I've been continually impressed at Rachel’s ability to handle a very heavy workload, both musical and academic. She does so without complaining, and has been a cheerful and vital member of our saxophone studio, including being a key member of the Bergman Saxophone Quartet,” said Matt Olson, associate professor of saxophone and director of jazz studies at Furman University. “She is intelligent, compassionate, friendly, positive, helpful, committed, and driven to succeed.”

In addition to meeting all the requirements for her bachelor’s degree in music, Donaldson has taken the eight core courses in biology, chemistry, and physics to prepare her for medical school. She also completed a medical ethics course, which includes hospital rotations, as part of Furman’s pre-health studies program.

Donaldson earned a fellowship through the Furman Advantage program which enabled her to spend the summer as an intern at Bellevue Hospital, conducting research and getting lots of hands-on experience with patients and medical procedures in hospital operating and emergency rooms. A highlight of the internship was a ride-along in a New York City ambulance with a group of fire department paramedics, answering calls throughout lower Manhattan.

The summer experience confirmed Donaldson’s plans to enroll in medical school after graduation next spring and pursue her dream of becoming an emergency room physician.

“Medicine helps people in a really tangible way,” said Donaldson. “My experiences gave me a much greater appreciation for all classes of society . . . Looking back, all I can say is that I am so lucky to have had such an incredible opportunity.”