Colton Ryan and Pat Wise are not yet doctors, but both play the part on Saturdays in the fall.
Senior leaders for the Albright College football team in Reading, Pa., Ryan and Wise each show off their medical prowess on the gridiron. Ryan, a captain and linebacker, must diagnose the opposing offense’s scheme and shut it down, much like halting an infection in a patient’s body. Wise’s doctoral duties come with each gaze downfield, as the Lions’ quarterback identifies the open receiver much like a doctor prescribing the proper medicine.
Their pigskin preparation will acclimate them well as they entertain careers in the medical field. Next summer, both Ryan and Wise will enter the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa., trading shoulder pads for lab coats.
“We were really excited when we both got accepted to Hershey,” Wise said. “We’re going to have someone in the class that has shared basically the same experience over the last four years.”
“It will be a lot easier because we know each other,” Ryan said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’ll definitely help with studying and staying ahead.”
Pursuing careers in medicine always seemed in the cards for both players.
As a youngster, Ryan gravitated to science. He was particularly interested in learning about anatomy, and one publication piqued his interest.
“I remember when I was little going into a book store and seeing an atlas of the human body,” Ryan said. “Ever since then I thought it was cool, and that was what inspired me. I’ve been interested in the human body and anatomy ever since. I decided early on that I wanted to be a doctor, so I put my mind to it and that’s what I’ve been working towards.”
Upon entering college, Ryan sought hands-on opportunities in the medical field. He served as a scribe at Reading Hospital during his sophomore year, and experienced a life-changing event.
“This woman had a pretty severe cut on her face from falling and hitting her face off the counter,” Ryan said. “She was bleeding badly and I remember ripping open a couple packages of gauze and just had my fingers in her cut with the gauze. I was trying to dab the blood away with the doctor to see what he was doing. It was pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie. I know that sounds a little weird, but it was kind of just confirmation for me that this is what I want to be doing.”
Ryan is not afraid to get his hands dirty, especially on the field. Named to the Middle Atlantic Conference Academic All-Conference team last season, he led the Division III Lions with 105 tackles in 2014 and racked up 32 stops through six games this season to go with a 75-yard interception. His play helped Albright limit opponents to less than 12 points-per-game through Oct. 17, making it the stingiest unit in the league.
Not much can match the thrill of making plays in the gridiron, but Ryan’s bloody experience in the hospital helped reaffirm his career path.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said. “Overall, big picture, it’s more about helping people. Fixing their problems and helping them live with a better quality of life is really the main goal when becoming a doctor. That hospital story, it was exciting at the time, but really it’s more satisfaction just knowing that you helped that person. Maybe not immediately, but eventually they are going to be better off for what you did. That’s what I would say is my goal and why I strive to be a doctor.”
For Wise, interest in health care runs in the family. His mother worked as an administrative assistant for a trauma department while his father is a psychiatric nurse. It was not until his mother became ill, however, that Wise saw a future as a doctor.
“The moment when I really started to consider it was when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was in eighth grade,” Wise said. “I was in the hospital a lot. I got to interact with doctors on a more intimate level in the hospital setting. I’ve observed great doctors and I’ve observed bad doctors. That’s sort of my motivation: I’ve gotten to see great doctors that I want to try to emulate, but I’ve also seen bad ones that I’ve learned from.”
Wise was a Middle Atlantic Conference Academic Honor Roll student last season. He threw for 1,734 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014, including a career-best 365 yards and three TDs against Salisbury in the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl Championship.
Splitting time between the classroom and gridiron has not been easy for Wise. In order to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor, he knows sacrifices must be made.
“While a lot of my housemates might be at home watching The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, I’m in the science center until 1 o’clock at night, and then I have to get up at 6:30 in the morning for lifting,” Wise said. “I can’t slack off, so it’s definitely improved my time management skills.”
While Ryan and Wise have designs to enter Penn State next year, those plans might be put on hold. Albright College President Lex O. McMillan approached both student-athletes and encouraged them to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship, which would gain entry to study at the prestigious University of Oxford in Oxford, England. The acceptance rate for the highly-competitive award is 0.7 percent.
“At first it was a little intimidating,” Ryan said. “I knew of the president, but I never had met him before. So he first came to me and you get kind of nervous. But after talking to him and having a couple of meetings with him, he’s a pretty cool guy. It’s pretty fun to talk to him. The whole experience has been really beneficial, and it’s also been fun getting to know President McMillan.”
As Ryan awaits a ruling on the Rhodes Scholarship, Wise has already secured the Health Professions Scholarship through the Air Force. The grant will pay for Wise’s tuition at Penn State and also includes a monthly stipend. He will enter basic training prior to medical school and do a three-week rotation during his summers. Upon graduation, Wise will spend four years of active duty in the military and another four years in the reserves.
“I know a lot of people think it’s just because of the money, but I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to serve in the military, and just the opportunity to travel, to meet new people,” Wise said.
For now they continue to be student-athletes, but medical careers await for Ryan and Wise. Thanks to football, both are prepared to tackle life’s next challenge.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much football impacts their lives, and I didn’t either until I got to college,” Ryan said. “Being around [Albright] Coach [John] Marzka, he always preaches life lessons that football holds that I never had before. I’ve really come to appreciate how much football has helped me and how many doors it has opened for me just because of those life lessons instilled in me.”
“Playing football will definitely help me become a better doctor,” Wise said. “As a part of a football team, it’s not about the individual; it’s about the whole team. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the good of the team. When you’re a doctor, you’re going to have to make sacrifices that are important for your patients and important for the people that you’re working with. The teamwork that is involved in football will help me become a doctor.”