Expanding horizons

Beyond the stethoscope: DOs, students excel in nonmedical pursuits

Medicine attracts goal-oriented individuals who pursue their careers with gusto. Some DOs apply equal fervor to their avocations.


Medicine attracts goal-oriented individuals who have the dedication and drive to excel. Many decide they want to become doctors at a young age and pursue this dream with gusto.

Some DOs and osteopathic medical students apply equal fervor to their avocations, achieving an uncommon level of excellence. The DO spoke with several such members of the profession who have significant accomplishments beyond osteopathic medicine.

Nature photographer Sarah Jessup, DO

Sarah Jessup, DO, became captivated with photography at age 11, when she visited a friend who’d been given a starter kit for developing film. She soon tried to turn her own family’s kitchen into a darkroom.

“My father owned a shoe store, so we always had a lot of shoeboxes around the house. In those days, women’s shoes were usually wrapped in red tissue paper, which gave me an idea,” Dr. Jessup remembers. “One night after my family was finished with dinner, I covered all the windows and the light in our kitchen with some of that red paper, creating a photographer’s safe light. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that tissue paper is flammable.”

The small house fire that resulted didn’t quell her zeal to learn more about photography. She became proficient with the Kodak Brownie her parents bought her, progressing to a better-quality camera and a small enlarger by the time she was in college. But medical school and her cardiology practice in Michigan “got in the way” of the earnest pursuit of her passion, she quips on her website, BearBasinPhotography.com.

It was after she retired to scenic McCall, Idaho—to indulge in kayaking, hiking, skiing, birding and other loves—that Dr. Jessup became a serious nature photographer who has sold her work. (She also finds time to run a clinic for the underserved, for which she was previously profiled in The DO.)

“I moved to Idaho because I love the outdoors. That’s always been a driving force in my life,” says Dr. Jessup, who grew up in North Carolina. “So it makes sense that I would enjoy photographing wildlife and landscapes.”

Timing was critical in getting this shot of the Milky Way over Mono Lake in California, says nature photographer Sarah Jessup, DO.

In search of the right shot, she has forded rivers, waded in numbing lakes and scaled jagged rocks. To a tenacious but not always patient person by her own admission, the hours of waiting for optimal light or a bird to show up can be as challenging as hauling heavy equipment—Nikons, tripod, telephoto lenses up to two feet long—for miles.

“I’ve spent far more time trying to get a photo than getting a photo,” Dr. Jessup says. “For every one I consider to be worthwhile, I’ve spent countless hours setting up photos that don’t work out.”

For landscape photography, light and location are paramount. “Unfortunately, the best light is always at the edges of the day,” Dr. Jessup says. “I’ll arrive at a location early in the morning, when it’s dark and it’s cold. If the clouds or the sun don’t cooperate, then I won’t get anything that day.”

Photographing animals presents additional difficulties. “With animals, you want the good light and the good angle,” she says. “But you’ve also got that other variable: They move around a lot and may not predictably be in one spot.”

Dr. Jessup has photographed grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, sandhill cranes and snow geese in New Mexico, the cloud forests of Ecuador, the mountains of Peru—innumerable canyons, ridges, rivers, waves, waterfalls, sunrises, sunsets.

A favorite photo of hers, of a great gray owl, she prizes as much for the preparation that went into the shot. “I had been stalking the bird for awhile a couple of summers ago,” she remembers. “I had heard the owlets calling for food in the early morning when I was running. I tracked down the birds by following their sounds through a marsh.”

[story-sidebar id=”180539″]

She later learned that a U.S. Forest Service staff member had been looking for these owls without success. “I was taking her to the site one rainy afternoon and came upon the adult owl hunting in a meadow,” Dr. Jessup says. “It’s rare to have such an unobstructed view with a clean background. So I was especially happy with this photo. It was a lucky break, but it was also the result of much effort.”

In February, Dr. Jessup traveled to Death Valley and the eastern Sierra Nevadas in California. Her most treasured photo from this trip shows Venus and the Milky Way over Mono Lake. “To get the photo, it was necessary to be there after the moon set [around 4:30 a.m.] but before sunrise [around 5:30 a.m.]. And, of course, one needed a clear night,” she explains. “Mono Lake is historically low right now, as a result of the drought, so it will not likely look the same the next time it is photographed.”

Oil painter Gary L. Hoff, DO

Award-winning educator Gary L. Hoff, DO, is also a professional artist, who has sold roughly 100 of his oil paintings. His website, Heartland-Studio.com, showcases a small sample of his portraits, still lifes and cityscapes.

“My work is very grounded in reality, with representational shapes but not a lot of detail,” explains Dr. Hoff, whose style is considered contemporary realism. “It involves looking at light and shadow, at shapes and how they interlock.”

His impressionistic nocturnes, he notes, pay homage to those of Frederic Remington, whose palette he adopted.

An associate professor of medicine at the Des Moines University (DMU) College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Hoff has customers well beyond Iowa and the rest of the Midwest. He belongs to the venerable Salmagundi Art Club in New York City, a more than 140-year-old organization the members of which have included Louis Comfort Tiffany and N.C. Wyeth.

To gain entry into Salmagundi, Dr. Hoff had to be approved by existing members. “You have to submit work, and the membership reviews it,” he says. “There’s a waiting period of months and months and months. And then they decide if you can be a member. If they agree, you are invited to join.”

Salmagundi runs several exhibitions a year that Dr. Hoff takes part in. He also displays his work in art fairs around the Midwest. He has elected not to show his work in art galleries because “they take half of what the price is,” he says.

On Salmagundi’s website, Dr. Hoff describes his paintings to art collectors: “My current work is my attempt to see the world simply. The geometry of common objects is of particular interest to me—cubes, cylinders, cones, spheres—and how they fit together,” he states. “Regardless of the object, I want to imply human content. I want my paintings to evoke, perhaps just offstage, an unseen person who might return momentarily to finish his coffee or grab a bottle of hot sauce or light the evening lamp.”

Dr. Hoff became seriously interested in art when his grandmother gave him a set of oil paints at age 12. “She showed me how to mix colors and said, ‘Take off,’ ” he remembers.

He studied product illustration at a technical college before entering the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, a period when he produced portraits in graphite and charcoal and many large oil paintings, mostly landscapes. Although mainly self-taught as an artist, he completed some formal workshops in fine art 20 or so years ago and spent time with artist mentors he admired. It was around then that he began selling his work.

A cardiologist who became a full-time academic in 1997, Dr. Hoff says his passion for art reinforced his skills as a physician. “Being an artist of any kind, whether you’re a painter or a sculptor, requires intense concentration and focus on detail,” he told The DO last year. “And that intense concentrating state also can bleed over into examining and diagnosing an ailment in a patient.”

Dr. Hoff sometimes works on commission. Larger pieces sell for thousands of dollars.

One of Dr. Hoff’s personal favorites is a 30-by-36-inch portrait of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, commissioned by DMU when Branstad was the university’s president. He also is proud of his health-themed still life “Risk Factors,” which features a skull wearing a cocky back-turned baseball cap, as well as a pack of Malboros, a stick of butter, a salt shaker and a chocolate doughnut.

Dr. Hoff relishes the problem-solving involved in realistic representation. “It’s tricking the eye into thinking something that’s two-dimensional is three-dimensional,” he explains. “That’s one of the things that attracts me the most.”

Percussionist Kevin P. Hubbard, DO

Growing up in the 1960s, Kevin P. Hubbard, DO, watched the great drummer Buddy Rich perform on “The Tonight Show” and was hooked.

“He and Louie Bellson were two very early influences,” says Dr. Hubbard, who began playing the drums when he was 9. “I thought what they did was so cool. It required a lot of energy and looked like a lot of fun.”

Dr. Hubbard took drum lessons for a year—long enough to learn how to read music fairly well—but for the most part is self-taught.

“My parents bought me a full drum set. My mom had migraines for years until I went to college and took the drums with me,” jokes Dr. Hubbard, who chairs the internal medicine department at the Kansas City (Mo.) University of Medicine and Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCUMB-COM).

He played the drums in school bands during junior high and his freshman year of high school but chose to play football instead in his sophomore through senior years. “I knew that I would be able to play music the rest of my life but was only going to have a limited time to play football,” he says.

That respite from performance only stoked his enthusiasm for percussion. Throughout college, he played in a number of settings—the school’s bands and orchestra, a suburban civic orchestra, as well as jazz bands.

“I went to a small private college about a half hour northeast of Kansas City, which, of course, is a huge jazz capital,” he says. “So it was very easy to find live music venues, where I could go sit and listen to people play. It was also possible to rotate in here and there and have fun playing with some of the larger bands.”

In his senior year of college, just after Dr. Hubbard had been accepted as a student at KCUMB-COM, he had “an amazing experience,” as he puts it. “I was playing in a jazz jam downtown when this gentleman walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, we’d really like to try you out for our traveling jazz band and orchestra. Our drummer is leaving, and we think you’d be the perfect fit.’

“I explained that I had just been accepted into medical school and, as much as I appreciated the offer, I really didn’t want to deviate from that path. ‘The band leader would still like to meet you,’ the man persisted. ‘Would you mind coming over and meeting him?’

“I said, ‘Well, sure.’ And it was at that point that I met Count Basie. The band they wanted me to try out for was the Count Basie Orchestra.

“But I had just been accepted as a medical student. I had never wanted to be anything but a DO. It’s what my dad was. It’s what my granddad was. And I was to be the third generation to go to the Kansas City college.

“Sometimes I look back at that choice and in hindsight think, ‘Would it have killed me to just maybe have traveled with the Count Basie Orchestra for a couple of years?’ I’ve kicked myself a few times.”

Still, he has few regrets. “It was wonderful to have been considered for that position,” Dr. Hubbard says. “And music for me has been such a release over the years.”

Today, he plays both acoustic and electronic drums in the praise band at his church and distributes CDs of some of this music. He also provides the music for the American College of Osteopathic Internists’ annual conventions and podcasts.

“With music, you have an opportunity to connect with people at a level you wouldn’t have with just words alone,” Dr. Hubbard observes. “It’s really much deeper than that. It’s very uplifting and motivating and certainly helps to maintain balance in an otherwise very busy life.”

Nordic skier Stephanie Anne Kramer, OMS III

Only those who take part in Nordic, or cross-country, skiing appreciate the level of fitness required, notes Stephanie Anne Kramer, OMS III, who competes in the most strenuous form of the sport—skate skiing. In one recent “just for fun” race, she had to ski up a mountain slope—the kind that alpine skiers ski down.

In skate skiing, athletes use shorter skis than in classic Nordic skiing, transferring their weight from one angled ski to the other in graceful glides resembling ice skating.

Kramer, who is from New Hampshire, grew up in a family of cross-country skiers who practiced in the backyard. She began racing her freshman year of high school. “That’s when I started doing skate skiing and found that I really enjoyed it,” she says.

Nordic skier Stephanie Anne Kramer, OMS III, has been racing since her freshman year in high school.

She competed on the varsity Nordic ski team at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “It was impossible to leave my love of skiing and the outdoors behind when I went to medical school,” says Kramer, who attends the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine.

During her first and second years of med school, Kramer served as the assistant and then the head coach of the Nordic ski team at Cape Elizabeth (Maine) High School. “One reason I like coaching is that I want to go into pediatrics,” she says. “This gave me the opportunity to teach teenagers about ways to use their body well.”

Currently completing her third-year rotations at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Kramer has temporarily stopped coaching. “But I plan on incorporating my love of skiing and spreading that passion to young people during my pediatrics residency and, later, a sports medicine fellowship,” she says. “Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to coach a team once again in my spare time.”

Skiing has helped prepare Kramer for a career in osteopathic medicine. “Nordic skiing blends perfectly with the osteopathic philosophy,” she observes. “For me, it combines physical health with mental clarity and emotional balance. To be a competitive skier, I needed all of these traits, and I have translated them into my current life as a medical student and future physician.”

Competitive cyclist Cody Walker, OMS IV

Cody Walker, OMS IV, took up cycling for exercise as a teenager because of a chronic knee condition that led to two surgeries and prevented him from running. In graduate school, he began to ride long distances with other cycling enthusiasts.

“When I was training for my first 100-mile ride,” recollects Walker, “it was more of a mental exercise than a physical challenge because you had to sit on a bike and keep pedaling when you just wanted to stop and go home. Once I survived that, it didn’t seem like such a daunting challenge. And when I got in better shape, I just wanted to go farther and faster.”

But it wasn’t until he began med school—at the Midwestern University/Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (MWU/AZCOM) in Glendale—that he became serious about competitive road racing, says Walker, who recently won the South Mountain Bicycle Classic in the Category 5 (novice) division. As a result, he can now race in the more competitive Category 4 division. (Those in Categories 1 and 2 are considered pro riders.)

A 30-minute circuit race in Phoenix, the South Mountain Bicycle Classic has a 0.7-mile lap course, much of which is uphill. To win, Walker says he leveraged the strength he developed from long-distance cycling.

“When the race started, there were about 20 people in the field. On the second lap, I passed everybody up,” he recalls. “I got up the hill and got a gap. For basically all but about four laps, I was by myself, in front of the field.

“Then three guys caught me with four laps to go, but I recovered. With two laps to go, I attacked again and dropped two of the guys. One of them stayed on my wheel, however, and went around with me for a lap and a half. But when I came around the final corner—the finish was uphill—I sprinted around him to win.”

Walker’s exhilarating finish further fuels his zest to compete. But he also enjoys the social aspects of bike riding. He started a cycling club at MWU/AZCOM “just to get people together because you make friends and it’s a great bonding experience,” he explains.

He rides with serious long-distance cyclists he met through a local bike shop. “The guys I started riding with a year and a half ago I initially didn’t know well,” he says. “But when you end up doing a 100-mile ride together, you’re on a bike for five hours and you’re suffering—that creates a strong emotional bond.”

As a fourth-year student, Walker has had more time for cycling than he did in his first three years of med school. Unlike after his third-year rotations, he doesn’t have to take shelf exams. “Every day, I go to the clinic or to the hospital and see patients, and then I go home,” he says. “Unless I’m giving a presentation or I have to look up something, I’m not really studying—that gives me time to ride.”

And ride he does. “Last week, I put in 290 miles,” he notes in mid-March. “In January and February combined, I put in 1,524 miles.”

Strenuous cycling also helps Walker cope with disappointments, such as not matching into a surgical specialty. “I came home and jumped on my bike and did a hard 40 miles,” says Walker, who has since landed a family medicine spot in Indianapolis. “You just exhaust yourself, and it helps you clear your mind and refocus. It’s my therapy.”

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy