Westmont Magazine A Doctor's Prescription for Life
The fast-paced life of an emergency room doctor appeals to Dr. Heather Marshall ’96. As the first person to see patients, she makes the diagnosis and sets the tone for dealing with their illness or injury. She enjoys the challenge of figuring out what is wrong.
“I have a fantastic opportunity to interact with people and minister to them, especially in the way they perceive their illness,” she explains. “If they are seriously ill, I can tell them so in a compassionate way.”
Heather is used to packing a lot into a day. As a chemistry major at Westmont, she squeezed in many history classes, played on the women’s soccer team, and participated in Potter’s Clay. She even made it to Europe during Mayterm.
“Playing soccer really added a lot to my experience at Westmont,” she reflects. “Mike Giuliano is a fabulous coach! I had to work hard, develop long-term goals, and be disciplined to do well in school and stay on the team,” she notes. “It was a great way to prepare for medical school.”
When she was growing up in Portland, Ore., Heather wanted to be a doctor and earn her M.D. at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). With this goal in mind, she applied to a wide range of colleges, none of which were Christian. It never occurred to her to look at Christian colleges.
More than half way through her senior year in high school, Heather discovered a brochure from Westmont in her mailbox, and it caught her attention. She knew nothing about the college and decided to visit. Liking the people she met there (and the beautiful campus and weather), she decided to enroll.
“Westmont is a hard school, and you have to study a lot,” she states. But she gained much more than just study skills. “What I learned at Westmont has helped me deal with ethical issues in medicine and develop the art of healing.”
Through classes with history Professor Shirley Mullen and philosophy Professor Bob Wennberg, Heather learned how to confront uncertainty. “Science is largely fact-based and trains you to look at things in black and white,” she comments. “But my Westmont professors encouraged me to look at all sides of a problem and to recognize the existence of uncertainty.”
This background proved invaluable when she wanted to articulate her beliefs during her four years at OHSU. As sophomore class president, she was one of 23 people who signed a letter opposing assisted suicide, which is now legal in Oregon. Some people at the school wanted to take action against these students for expressing their opinion, and Heather discovered a lot of intolerance in the medical community toward people who oppose procedures such as assisted suicide and abortion. “My goal was expressing my opinion in a thoughtful and well-rounded manner so they would hear what I was saying,” she notes.
During medical school, Heather continued to play soccer and to be involved with Potter’s Clay. She competed with a coed team from OHSU and with a club team of college graduates. With soccer powerhouse University of Portland in the area, a lot of good women players participate on these teams.
In 1997, Heather was able to take three weeks off to travel to Uganda with Sports Outreach, the ministry founded by former Westmont soccer Coach Russ Carr. “I didn’t plan to play, just work with kids,” Heather says. “But when I got there, the people wanted to see an American in the game. Even though I was the only woman, the weather was brutally hot, and the altitude was 8,000 feet, I played one-touch soccer with a professional men’s team from Uganda. It was pretty intimidating, but the people loved it.”
Heather served on the medical and dental team for Potter’s Clay her first two years at Westmont and then decided to get her father, Chuck, involved as a contractor. Her brother, Andrew, who attended Westmont for a year and a half, also joined in.
The Marshalls continue to make the annual trek to Ensenada as a family ministry. Sometimes Heather can only go for a day or two. “It’s therapeutic to get away from the hospital, swing a hammer, and see my Mexican friends,” she says.
She has studied Spanish since high school and spent a month in an intensive language program in Guatemala. “Becoming fluent in Spanish has been a tremendous bonus,” she notes.
After graduating from OHSU in June, Heather started a three-year residency in emergency medicine at UC Davis this summer. When she entered medical school, she wanted to be a surgeon, but working around a hospital for two years changed her perspective.
“I found out I didn’t like surgery enough to make it my whole life and spend a lot of time on call,” she says. “The emergency room is exciting and fast-paced. You work your shift and leave. When you’re off, you’re really off. You can have a life.”
While Heather loves her work, she wants to leave time for soccer and ministry. “Success after college isn’t about your career, it’s about the kind of person you want to be. I learned that at Westmont. I want to be a person with a well-rounded life.”