Rare birth defect won’t deter TCOM student from reaching her dream

September 20, 2019

By Steven Bartolotta

Taylor Web

Taylor Orcutt

One day last year, TCOM medical student Taylor Orcutt joined other members of the Pediatric Club to administer eye screenings on children at Glen Park Elementary School.

Orcutt, whose left arm ends at the elbow because of a rare birth defect, has never let that stand in the way of what she wanted to do. Her good friend, second-year medical student Callie Nance, remembers the day at Glen Park well.

“The very first kid who walked in came up to her and said, ‘Hey, what happened to your arm?’ We all froze and didn’t know what to say,” Nance recalled. “Taylor handled it so well and just told the child that she was born with it. She was so genuine and connected with all of the kids that day, it was just no big deal with them at all.”

That’s the way Orcutt has approached her physical challenge all her life. She simply knows no other way of acting.

“It’s never been an issue,” said Orcutt, now in her second year at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNTHSC. “For me, it’s normal. My parents always encouraged me, and I grew up playing all kinds of sports. I’ve never had to change what I was doing because I learned things like everyone else.”

Growing up, she never allowed her missing arm to be a hindrance. She remembers only one instance of regret – when in kindergarten, she realized she couldn’t play on the monkey bars.

“That was devastating to me,” Orcutt said with a wry smile.

A standout in soccer, basketball, volleyball and cross country throughout school, she took inspiration from major league baseball pitcher Jim Abbott, who achieved success despite being born without a hand.

Orcutt saw Abbott’s success at the highest level of his profession and figured there was no reason why she couldn’t follow his path.

“I looked at him a lot for inspiration and saw that you may have to do things a little differently, but you can do it,” she said. “If you’re willing to put in the practice and the study, you will be successful.”

And that’s how she has approached her life-long goal to become a physician.

“I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a physician,” Orcutt said. “I had a family friend who was a TCOM graduate, and we began talking about the school. I loved the mindset of osteopathic medicine and how it looked at all aspects of the individual.”

After graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in biomedical engineering, Orcutt arrived in Fort Worth in July 2018.

Just four years removed from graduating as valedictorian of a high school class of just 80, Orcutt was now one of 230 first-year osteopathic medical students. The humanistic side of osteopathic medicine is not lost on Orcutt, who knows her future patients will potentially draw inspiration from her.

“I have thought a lot about the fact of showing people that, you know what, she can do this, so there is no reason I can’t do that,” she said. “There are a lot of platforms that are out there that can help people and support groups, especially when it comes to helping show kids what they can do.”

Orcutt became very active from the moment she stepped on campus. She became a Luibel Advisory College Representative, a TCOM Student Ambassador, an officer in the Human Anatomy Society and a member of the Pediatric Club.

Blake Pruitt, a second-year student and another close friend, recalled a particular moment early in their time at TCOM when Orcutt showed her gritty determination.

“I remember the first time I tried to take a manual blood pressure I was like, I’m pretty sure you need eight hands to do this. And she had one and she did it better than I did,” Pruitt said. “She never complains about anything.  I was so just impressed at how well she can adapt and how well she works together on the fly.”

Working together and collaboration is a foundational bedrock of medicine. Teamwork matters and Orcutt’s work ethic has left an impression not only on her fellow students, but also the faculty. Orcutt is an OMM teaching assistant, a position that helps other students while learning the basics of osteopathic manipulative medicine in the lab setting.

“I was very impressed with her willingness to problem solve, and achieve excellence no matter what,” said Dr. Yein Lee, an assistant professor who worked with Orcutt during her first year. “She asked for help when needed and never really made excuses when she potentially could have.  I am really happy she decided to come to TCOM, and I am really excited to find out what she will choose to do.”

What does the future hold? Orcutt recently married and plans eventually to specialize in Sports Medicine or Anesthesiology. Whatever road she chooses, she remains a role model to many.

“Taylor is one of the most competent, talented, kind, compassionate future physicians I’ve ever met,” Pruitt said. “She’s so incredible confident and competent, and she inspires me every day, pushes me every day, I’m fortunate enough to spend a lot of time around her.”

Orcutt’s journey through medical school in many ways is just beginning. Second-year students don’t get many breaks.  There are classes, labs, quizzes, exams and non-stop studying to digest so much material that could overwhelm even the best of students. But for anyone expecting Orcutt to buckle because of her disability, they don’t know Taylor.

“I keep thinking, if that was me I don’t think I could handle it as well,” Nance said. “A lot of time I see professors coming to her to try and help, but before they get to her she already has figured it out. She’s a natural leader.”

Recently Orcutt and fellow second-year student Jordyn Mayerhofer founded DREAM, Disability Rights, Education and Activism in Medicine, a multidisciplinary club aimed to provide education and outreach opportunities to better prepare future health care providers for interactions with patients who have various disabilities.

A physician in training, a role model, a wife and many other things define and describe her life. But if Taylor Orcutt has anything to say about it, one perceived limitation never will.

“I’ve always been out to prove people wrong and make it to where my arm doesn’t define me, but my life will,” she said.

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