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Jumping into a Medical Career

Vandal Track Athlete Digs Into Medical Studies at College of Science

Ellie Grant can fly.

It’s what she does while competing as a Vandal on the University of Idaho Track and Field team.

As a high jumper and triple jumper Grant pushes her limits and often exceeds her best work.

“She’s an enthusiastic person who has tall goals and goes after them,” said her coach, Tim Cawley.

The same motivation Grant uses to excel athletically has her on track to reach an academic goal she has focused on since high school when she decided on a career as a physician’s assistant. It prompted her to seek out U of I research scholarships, job shadow physicians’ assistants at Gritman hospital, earn a phlebotomist certification and volunteer at a Red Cross in Spain where she traveled as a Vandal.

“I try to take advantage of every opportunity U of I has given me.”

— Ellie Grant, medical sciences junior

“I always knew I wanted to study medicine, so it’s become kind of a passion for me,” the junior medical sciences major in the College of Science said.

Grant recently received a $7,000 fellowship from the IHHE USDA Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates program for researching metabolism models that try to predict evolutionary outcomes of evolving populations.

Grant studies how generations of a plant bacteria, known for its ability to transition between different sources of carbon and energy, have lost that versatility. She wants to learn if the switch to being less flexible is genetic or relegated to bacteria with physical differences but with the same genetic makeup.

Smiling woman in puffy winter jacket.
Vandal Track and Field jumper Ellie Grant of Snohomish, Washington, is a junior studying medical sciences, whose plans include becoming a physician’s assistant and mentoring other student athletes.

“The learnings from this project will be relevant to how these bacteria can switch to and from methanol growth on plants and for how we can better use this bacteria in biotechnology,” Professor Chris Marx said.

The work in the Marx lab has helped her apply the learning she receives in her day-to-day biology and chemistry classes, she said.

But it’s not that Grant’s college life is an esoteric blend of adrenalin she taps on the field, and deep thoughts proffered in labs and libraries.

She also nurtures a pragmatic streak.

Grant is a certified phlebotomist who spent months at Gritman Medical Center between her studies at U of I during the pandemic drawing blood for patients.

“I was outfitted from head to toe in gloves, a face shield and robe,” she said. “Some of the patients I drew blood from didn’t make it. That was something I struggled with.”

The challenges of the hospital job — her shift ran from early morning to afternoons on weekends — didn’t dissuade her, but instead further motivated her to pursue a career in medicine.

Her passion to pursue a medical career has shown her how to turn hurdles into opportunities.

As a high school student in Snohomish, Washington, Grant was diagnosed with scoliosis that required a brace, periods of clinical visits and close contact with a physician’s assistant, who coincidentally had been a college high jumper. Grant at the time was already recognized as a college track and field prospect. The PA became Grant’s mentor, which led to Grant being hired in the Providence Regional Medical Center hospital in Everett, Washington, while in high school.

“I looked up to her,” Grant said. “She has had a lasting impact on me.”

As a Vandal athlete, Grant asked the team doctor if she could job shadow him in his private practice. He agreed. The job shadow led to another connection with a Moscow PA. 

At U of I, Grant spends hours between classes on lab research, job shadowing, track and field practice or meets, and a rigid daily weight-training schedule. She is a College of Science ambassador and the president of the U of I chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Free time is spent hiking in the Palouse or nearby mountains.

“I have to stick to a tight schedule,” she said. “So, everything is always planned out.”

While vacationing with a friend in northwestern Spain last year, she volunteered at the Red Cross in A Coruña where Grant met and worked with Ukrainian refugees.

“It was such a unique experience,” she said. “I am still in contact with many of them.”

Although she was recruited to track and field teams at a variety of colleges in California, Oregon and Washington, she chose U of I because of the track team’s engaging staff. She also met and was impressed with the College of Science, as well as the beauty of the U of I campus.

Three years later, she couldn’t imagine having gone anywhere else.

“I try to take advantage of every opportunity U of I has given me,” Grant said. “I am grateful that there have been so many.”

Professors, fellow students and researchers, the Moscow medical community and her track team and coaches continue to encourage and challenge her, she said.

“I love what I’m doing, and I’m glad to be doing it here at the University of Idaho,” she said.

Article by Ralph Bartholdt, University Communications.

Photos by Rio Spiering, University Visual Productions.

Published in April 2023.

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