Ever since she was a child and watched her Navajo grandfather butcher sheep and cows, University of Arizona medical student Stephanie Gauby has been fascinated by how bodies work.
She spent summers with her grandparents who lived in Grand Falls near the Navajo reservation.
"If we had a hurt lamb, I'd be there to help my grandfather fix the leg," Gauby said. "I would help my grandparents butcher sheep and cows. It was always interesting."
When she started learning about the heart in high school she said she wanted to be a cardiologist.
But by the time Gauby started college, she thought she wanted to study then make a career of bio-engineering. She obtained her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona.
Part of her research included looking for genetic markers in mice, "but it wasn't my passion," she said.
It was while volunteering at the Tucson Medical Center that her career path became clear.
"I played with kids in the pediatric rehabilitation ward," she said. "They were all kids with cancer and other chronic diseases. I got their minds off seeing the doctors."
Currently, Gauby is pursuing a career in family medicine, with plans to work in a rural community, because "there are a variety of patients and in family medicine I would get to see patient progression over time," she said.
Gauby is spending a month in Payson under the mentorship of allopathic physician James Schouten and osteopathic physician David Cluff.
While Payson is considered "rural," Gauby is used to an even more isolated setting. The reservation where she grew up she describes as "extremely rural."
"During my fourth year of school I want to go back and do my medical rotation at a rural town on the Navajo reservation," she said.
"My mom and dad, my whole family," Gauby said, "they are extremely proud and supportive of my career choice."
In the Navajo culture it is a taboo to be around human death, but studying to become a medical doctor means anatomy classes where cadavers are used.
So Gauby periodically returns to the reservation for a special cleansing ceremony to bring her "back into harmony with life."
The Navajo Nation is providing scholarships to help Gauby achieve her dreams.
Local doctors Schouten and Cluff welcomed Gauby to shadow them in their family medicine practices.
"We did it because we enjoy teaching and we think it is important for students to get out of the University setting and come into a community where they can see what a normal family medicine practice is like," Schouten said.
He and Cluff are rural faculty members of the U of A College of Medicine's Rural Health Professions Program.
The program was established in 1997 by the Arizona Legislature to encourage medical school graduates to practice in rural communities.
Gauby said she enjoyed being able to shadow other Payson physicians. She watched surgeons Luis Coppelli and Steven Lee perform a hernia repair, an amputation and a gall bladder removal. She watched their physician's assistant, Diane Scott, treat patients. She helped with Dr. Alan Michels' patients' physical exams.
"I really think Stephanie is going to be a good doctor," Schouten said. "Her knowledge base is basically very good for the level that she is at. She just finished her first year so there are a lot of things she has to cover prior to doing a lot more clinical work.
"She does have a lot of enthusiasm."
After Gauby finishes her mentorship in Payson she is off to Juno, Alaska to shadow another rural doctor.
--- To reach Carol La Valley call 474-5251 ext. 122 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.