Rising above challenges, members of TCOM’s Class of 2023 ready for Match Day
Samantha Hustak remembers the taunts as a little girl. Katie Walter will never forget the day she got the news her athletic career was over. At the age of 45, Rachael Haines, a wife and mother of four, was ready for medical school; and Clarence Sparks, a one-time college dropout, is now ready to head home to Midland to help his community.
These students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine have persevered, overcome and are now ready to reach the pinnacle of their medical school careers, Match Day.
Hearing loss, concussions, doubt and juggling a family, each TCOM student is inspirational to their classmates and the profession they are about to enter. These are a few of the stories of TCOM’s Class of 2023. Today we meet Katie Walter.
There was little doubt that Katie Walter was going to be an athlete. The only question remaining was what sport she would choose. Walter, raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, came from a family lineage of athletes that reads like royalty. Starting with her grandfather, John Keith, who played basketball and baseball at Brown University from 1954-57. Seven other relatives played sports at the collegiate level, ranging from football, volleyball and lacrosse.
Walter found her passion at an early age, though. It was soccer. She was playing by age three and moved up to competitive soccer by seven. She was on the club soccer circuit in high school and was a highly decorated player. She was heavily recruited but set her sights on Duke University. Walter signed with the Blue Devils, but there was a problem.
During high school, she had several concussions from playing soccer. The concussions piled up, four in total, and Walter was having difficulties.
“At the end of my freshman year, I started to have cognitive difficulty,” she said. “I did some neurological testing and it was taking way too long to recover from the concussions. I was told that I wouldn’t be cleared to continue playing.”
The news rocked Walter. Her entire identity had been as a soccer player, and now that was gone. She was devasted.
“It was very hard because I didn’t want to give up on being an athlete,” she said. “So, my sophomore year at Duke I joined the club field hockey team, but it was a contact sport so I couldn’t do that. Then I switched to rowing and did that for three years instead.”
Remember her family lineage being chock full of great athletes? It was also loaded with something else, physicians. Her father is a pediatrician, her mother is a psychiatrist, and her brother is an emergency medicine physician.
“I grew up in a medical family and had a lot of role models,” Walter said. “But it wasn’t expected of me. I had zero pressure put on me by my family. It was quite the opposite. They allowed me to choose the path myself.”
Her parent’s profession did have an impact on her growing up and was what ultimately led to her wanting to go into medicine.
“A lot of it was seeing how much my parents were looked up to in the community,” Walter said. “We would go out to the grocery store and the patients and the parents would come up to them and thank them so much for what they did for their families. Seeing the relationships they made with patients and how much they love their job really impacted me.”
Walter was a pre-med major at Duke, but concussions didn’t just end her athletic career early, they affected her academically as well.
After graduating in 2014, Walter decided to take some time off. She struggled in her pre-med classes at Duke and knew she needed the time to regain her cognitive abilities. Walter moved to Chicago and started a post-baccalaureate program, which is for students who have an interest in health care.
After spending some time as a scribe, she knew medicine is what she wanted. She arrived at TCOM in 2019 and felt at home immediately. Her competitive juices were still flowing. Walter joined a running club, the Fort Worth Distance Project, which has a member that has qualified for the Olympic trials.
With an active, healthy lifestyle, Walter has seemingly moved on from her injury-riddled past, but not completely.
“I had a few issues lasting for a couple of years after, like worsening migraines, difficulty concentrating, and challenges with spatial reasoning,” she said.
Walter has not let those challenges slow her down in the least. She finished in the top quartile in pre-clinical and maintained honors in several of her clinical rotations.
Walter recently welcomed her first child at the end of her third year last summer. As she prepares for the match, there is little doubt about her specialty.
“I think I knew once I chose medicine, it was going to be pediatrics,” Walter said.
She’s still competitive having recently completed a half-marathon. But her perspective has changed now that she has a daughter and is about to embark on the next phase of her life.
“My daughter arrived at a crazy time, but the family support got me through it all,” she said. “A lot of things have been put into perspective for me. It will really hit me on Match Day. There is a lot of anxiety about where we will live, but it’s definitely been a long road. I’m 31 now. When I started this journey, I was 18 and didn’t know how hard it would be. I’m going to finish it with a baby.”
The 13-year journey for Walter saw her transform from a competitive athlete to an aspiring medical student and a mother. The road will conclude with her becoming a physician.