Personal Journey Guides CSUN's Amanda Smith to Medical School

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. --- 

According to the World Health Organization, and the assistant cruise director on my voyage to Alaska, the most non-contagious disease in the world is tooth decay. And as crazy as that may seem with AIDS, malaria, Ebola, the Hantavirus, ALS, heart disease and every other health catastrophe you can imagine, it just seems to reinforce the need for dedicated medical professionals.

But there is another disease that is pervasive throughout college campuses every year, one that comes crashing down on even the heartiest academic: senioritis. Every year, millions of college students enter their final year of college with that one resolution: make the last year crazier than the first three years combined.

Sure there are term papers, finals and numerous tests to be finished, but once it strikes, senioritis is a terminal illness to that person's academic vital signs (GPA). You're talking to a veteran here, one who nearly tanked his final semester of graduate school in a lethargic fall from grace.

But that's not the case, or I should say prognosis, for Cal State Northridge senior Amanda Smith. A midfielder from Camarillo, Calif., Smith spent all summer preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). A grueling, week-long exam that features multiple-choice questions in an array of subjects, the MCATs have shaken many a student, let alone one also managing a Division I soccer career.

"Preparing for the test involved constantly studying 8-hours a day. All the best subjects are on the test: physics, organic chemistry, chemistry, biology and algebra. I took a practice class that is harder than the test and I felt more prepared for the questions," Smith said.

For Smith, the release from the pressure and studying for the test came in soccer. A player since an early age, Smith let her love for the game fuel her passion not only to pass the test, but also become a dermatologist.

But that avenue of release was almost cut short, long before Smith reached Matador Soccer Field. Amanda Smith is a skin cancer survivor.

According to numerous outlets, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Each year brings more new cases of skin cancer than the combined occurrences of breast, prostate and colon cancers. And sadly, one in five Americans will likely develop skin cancer during some part of their lifetime.

At the age of 16, amidst the trials and tribulations of high school life, Smith was diagnosed with skin cancer.  It was a scary time but one made easier by the dermatologist, Dr. Buckont, who was also named Amanda.

"When the doctors first told me, I cried because I was scared, but she walked me through whole thing and made it interesting," Smith said. "Fortunately, skin cancer is not as dangerous as other forms of cancer. I had surgery and a week later it was all gone."

And it has stayed away because of Smith's preventative measures, habits she shares with her soccer teammates on a daily basis.

"I always make sure my teammates are putting on sunblock and getting under shade during our breaks in practice," Smith said. "I think before my cancer I didn't realize how constant you have the sun on your skin and I want to make sure my teammates are aware of their exposure."

Prior to 2010, all CSUN soccer games at Matador Soccer Field were played during the day. Anyone familiar with the San Fernando Valley can attest to the sometimes-unrelenting presence the sun has on long August and September days. The construction of lights, as part of a student-fee initiative, has allowed Smith and her teammates to thrive under cooler conditions; since the lights have been installed, the Matadors are 18-10-3 at home.

Since her arrival on campus, Smith has been a constant presence on the pitch for the Matadors. In three-plus seasons with the squad, Smith has hardly missed a match. She has totaled two goals and nine assists in her time in a Matador kit and hopes end her CSUN career on a high note. Most recently, she fired home the game-winning goal in a victory at Fresno State.

Her head coach, Keith West, says having student-athletes like Smith make his job easier.

"When you have someone committed to the academics and the soccer, they are fun to coach. They set a standard for the rest of the team that helps build a culture inside your program," West said. "On and off the field, Amanda has gotten better and improved our team each year. That's what we are looking for when we recruit student-athletes."

She also gets to spend this season on the field with her sister, Amilee. A redshirt sophomore, Amilee had to sit out the 2012 season due to injury. That makes this 2013 season that much more special as it represents the final time the two sisters will get to play together.

According to Smith, one of the catalysts for her successful preparation for the MCATs was her boyfriend, former Matador Joe Franco. Recently drafted by Chivas USA of Major League Soccer, Franco has too had to overcome the adversity of a knee injury he suffered late in his senior season. Both of their rehab assignments have inspired Smith.

"They both handled their injuries and rehab assignments differently," Smith said. "It taught me that when I'm doctor to cater to the specific needs of each of my patients."

As her Matador career ends and she transitions into the potential life of a medical student (she finds out the results in late September), Smith feels well prepared for the path ahead.  She is looking to apply to UC Davis, which she said is known for its dermatology department, and UC San Diego for medical school.

As a Biology major and a Division I student-athlete, she has successfully navigated a path that most of her peers might not have endured.

"A lot of people thought I wouldn't be able to balance a biology, pre-med academic career and the demands of soccer," Smith added. "But I did it anyways and proved you don't have to pick sides between sports and your dream job. You can succeed in both."

And although her future will probably focus on cures for the epidermis, maybe Smith can work on that other ailment seemingly affecting too many of her peers.

by Geoffrey Herberg, CSUN Media Relations