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Double Trouble

Saturday, March 21, 2009


ESPN.com Feature by Graham Hays

Courtesy: Dartmouth Athletic Communications

HANOVER, N.H. - Although she wasn't tardy, Koren Schram apologized all the same. She had planned to call earlier, she explained, but time slipped away as she watched a liver biopsy and splenectomy.

Koren Schram has deadly moves on the court and life-saving ones off of it.

Some people will do anything for a fix when "House" goes on hiatus for the summer.

"It was really interesting," Schram said, with the same reverence many of her peers might express after sitting in on a recording session with The Hold Steady.

As one of the best basketball players in the Ivy League, and arguably one of the best players pound-for-pound in the country, Schram can cut out an opponent's proverbial heart by draining a 3-pointer or throwing her 5-foot-7 frame into the lane with abandon.

As a premed major at Dartmouth interested in possibly pursuing a specialty in pediatric surgery, she's forced to be a little more anatomically responsible.

In advance of her senior year in Hanover, N.H., Schram spent the summer as an intern for Dr. James Bussel, a world-renowned expert in pediatric hematology and oncology, at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Schram's work focused on clinical trials related to neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia, a condition that affects the platelet count in newborns and can lead to potentially fatal hemorrhaging in some instances.

Schram's daily routine in the Big Apple began with, in her words, a very large cup of coffee after she jogged to work, but that was all the java-fetching in the job description. Work often started by organizing data she had tracked down from various hospitals the previous day on the mothers involved in the study. From there she moved on to anything from working on the paperwork required to ensure continued funding for the study, to spinning blood samples in a centrifuge to separate components like plasma for storage.

It's not much of a stretch to say basketball brought Schram to her position working for Dr. Russell, and not just because she successfully interviewed for the internship the morning before her team played a game at Columbia last season. She left her native Arkansas for a small town on the Vermont-New Hampshire border in large part because of the academic opportunities the Ivy League school offered for a would-be doctor. But the move also happened because Dartmouth saw the kind of athlete who could excel in both academics -- she was class valedictorian in high school -- and basketball.

And make no mistake, while medicine may be Schram's calling in life, it was preceded by a passion for basketball passed down by Dylan, her older brother who recently concluded his own collegiate basketball career at Westminster College in Missouri.

"I always told him I wanted to be a cheerleader," Schram laughed. "And when I was 6, and he started joining the basketball team, he finally was like, 'You will play basketball.' So he started teaching me how to play, and ever since then, basketball has kind of been my whole life, from school to AAU in the summer. But both of my parents are kind of into medicine -- my mom is a physical therapist and my father is a professor of biology. It's kind of a science-related family. I've always been interested in science and medicine, so I guess I've always thought about [being a doctor]. But I think the basketball thing came a lot earlier."

Balancing a premed major and basketball wasn't easy at first -- more difficult even than adjusting to the harsh New England winters to which she admits she's only now growing accustomed. But between a strong academic-support network and the school's quarter system, which made it logistically possible for her to take lab beasts like Organic Chemistry completely out of season, she held her own on and off the court. Strictly a reserve as a freshman, she earned all-league honorable mention as a sophomore and then led the team in scoring while earning first-team all-league honors last season. And as she's gotten a glimpse at the world that awaits her after graduation (she also spent the spring quarter in an internship at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center doing research on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), she's found her basketball experience invaluable.

Schram has learned valuable lessons from basketball, which have helped her succeed in school.

"I think being able to be a leader on the court is just as comparable to being off the court," Schram said. "My boss always jokes around, like, 'You're the captain of this project.' I think being able to handle a whole bunch of stuff at school, such as handling being on a team, trying to get your work done and still have a social life has helped me kind of organize my priorities and be able to do a whole lot of things at work. I think it makes my job a lot more fun, also, because I can do a lot of different things."

Dr. Bussel's kidding aside, Schram will return to the basketball court in Hanover this season as a team captain. Doing her spring internship at a hospital in Hanover allowed her to guide the team's returning underclassmen through the first stages of offseason workouts. But putting in long hours in an unfamiliar urban landscape over the summer presented its own set of challenges and forced the captain to get creative with her conditioning.

"It's pretty difficult to get a good workout in," Schram explained. "I actually decided that I despise all public transportation, so I run to work [about 3.5 miles each way by her estimate] every morning and back through Central Park, which is interesting. That's my favorite part about New York is Central Park, because I'm from Arkansas where it's all woods and outdoorsy stuff, and I think Central Park is the only place you can get that here, so I absolutely love it."

Of course, all things considered, finding a way to fit in with the crowd of humanity that is New York City in exchange for an internship like the one in question was a nice way for an aspiring medical student to separate herself from the pack. Beyond bold-type fodder for her resume and med school applications, Schram took advantage of her surroundings to seek out the sort of tips of the trade she offered to teammates back in Hanover.

"We have interns, who are all my age and are contemplating medical school and all worrying about MCATs," Schram said. "But on top of that, we have research coordinators who are out of college and are currently applying to med school. They took a year off to work, so they're also in the process of it. And then on top of that, we work with first- and second-year med students. So you kind of get a story line, as far as each stage you go into it. All the med students who are working in the same department, they'll give their opinions on what it's like to apply, where you should apply, how to do your applications. It's really great; I'm getting a good sense of exactly what I want to do when I finally get out of college."

That plan could include remaining in Hanover, cold and all, for medical school at Dartmouth, returning to a school closer to her Southern roots or heading off to study in the St. Louis area, where her brother lives. But before any of that, she'd like to take a year off and perhaps even pay her way to Europe by playing basketball professionally on the other side of the Atlantic. Basketball, it seems, isn't anywhere near out of her system.

"I'm hoping a huge place," she said of where the sport might fit in the day-to-day life of the future Dr. Schram. "All I can think right now is I work from pretty much 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. at my job right now, so getting into a gym is very rare. I'm in like basketball withdrawal, not being able to be in a gym constantly. So I'm pretty sure [basketball] is going to have a pretty big effect on me, even when I'm out of college and maybe not playing anymore on an actual team."