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Changing Lives, and Loving It

Heather Geist '15 poses in London during her time studying abroad.

Heather Geist '15 poses in London during her semester abroad. Photo courtesy of Geist.

Heather Geist ’15

With two older sisters majoring in science, Heather Geist ’15 had plenty of early exposure to the field, but it was a medical mission trip that inspired her to take the pre-health path. After spending two summers shadowing a surgeon in the operating room and completing research on heart procedures, she traveled to San Francisco last fall to present her work at the American College of Surgeons Conference. She also recently was accepted to medical school.


Biochemistry & molecular biology.

Clubs and organizations:

Liberty Cap Society (tour guide), Pi Beta Phi, First-Year Experience Leader, Pre-Health Society and Dickinson Christian Fellowship.


John Dickinson Scholarship, Rush Citizen of the Year Award (2011-12), Charles A. Dana Scholarship, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society and Pi Beta Phi's Amy Burnham Onken Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Campus and Community Leadership.

On choosing Dickinson:

One of the moments that helped me decide that Dickinson was the place for me arrived during a campus visit, as I met with a biochemistry professor, [Associate] Professor [of Chemistry Amy] Witter. She took the time to outline a four-year schedule that a biochemistry major could follow to ensure graduating on time and spending at least a semester studying abroad. I knew after that visit that Dickinson professors are really invested in their students and are willing to assist them in achieving their goals. Professor Witter is now my academic advisor, one of the many science professors who have had a positive impact on my academics and future plans.

On studying abroad:

During the fall of my junior year I studied abroad in London and Norwich, taking classes at the University of East Anglia, through Dickinson's Norwich Science Program. I learned a great deal, attending one of the top research institutions in the U.K. I [also] had the chance to travel to other countries in Europe where fellow Dickinson students were studying abroad. The highlight of my experience, by far, was living with British students. I made some great friends, and they found it especially fun to mimic my American accent.

Childhood career aspirations:

I went through a bunch of different “when I grow up” phases, but I think the first idea I had was to be a figure skater. I had never figure skated at that point, so it didn’t last long. In fourth grade I had to dress up to represent the profession I wanted to have when I was older, which was a lawyer. Somewhere in the mix I really wanted to be a meteorologist, and by sixth grade I was set on being a genetic engineer.

On choosing a major:

I decided I wanted to go into genetic or biomedical engineering for most of high school—until my senior year, when I participated in a medical mission trip. I directly saw the profound impact the various physicians had on the people we treated and wanted nothing more than to do the same!

About my internships:

After my first year at Dickinson I also worked as an intern for my church, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fleetwood, Pa. (I loved being able to work with our youth programs and services), and during the past two summers I interned at the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) in Allentown, Pa., as a part of the Research Scholars Program. I learned about the Research Scholars Program from Debi Swarner in the Career Center, and after applying, I was accepted to work with a cardiothoracic surgeon. During each summer, a large portion of my time was spent shadowing in the operating room or learning/practicing down in the surgical-education center. I also completed a few research projects regarding different heart procedures and unique cases. In October 2014, I went to the American College of Surgeons Conference in San Francisco to present my research. 

What I learned on the job:

My internships provided me with a wealth of knowledge and experiences that really helped to prepare me for my future. Working at my church taught me management skills that translated into my internship at LVHN. Working in the department of surgery and really being exposed to the health care system, I confirmed my desire to become a doctor. I also had a wonderful mentor who taught me a great deal, such as the steps to completing an open-heart procedure from open to close and the importance of having good communication with your staff. While I don’t think I’m going to be a heart surgeon, I have had two incredible summers that challenged my physical and intellectual skills.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I was recently accepted into a [medical-school] program. After obtaining an M.D., I hope to be able to participate in more medical mission trips and return to the type of experiences that really sparked my excitement surrounding medicine.

Biggest influence:

My mom is a very determined person who has overcome obstacles, all the while giving me everything I needed. She is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met, and the passion she has for her students is evident. Although my passions are different, I see, through her, the great value in loving what you do. She doesn’t always understand what I’m doing, but she has supported me in every way possible.

Proudest accomplishment:

As a first-year at Dickinson, I looked at the talented pool of students here and all they had accomplished, and I never thought I’d be able to accomplish such great things in only four years. But it has been a fast and fulfilling journey at Dickinson. My proudest accomplishments have happened recently—getting accepted to medical school, presenting and attending a surgical conference as an undergraduate and successfully helping to start a community-service program for first-year students. There has been so much support from so many different people at Dickinson that have really helped me to accomplish everything I have thus far.

Most important thing I’ve learned so far:

Seize every opportunity you come across; don’t be afraid to go after an opportunity you want. Dickinson has provided me with valuable experiences both outside of and within my major. Without seizing the opportunities that have come my way, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve learned that it’s very important to jump outside of your comfort zone because without doing so you’ll never be able to grow as an individual.

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Published February 16, 2015