Beaufort native wins USC medical-school scholarship

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comNovember 18, 2013 

Rachel Heidt

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Rachel Heidt has been all over the world.

She has lived, worked and volunteered in Alaska, Australia, Belgium and Thailand.

But now, after graduating from Beaufort High School eight years ago, she is returning to South Carolina for another adventure -- medical school.

Heidt won a scholarship several weeks ago that enables her to attend the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. The 27-year-old Beaufort native is the first recipient of the Charles D. Walters Family Foundation Scholarship, which is funded by a $1 million endowment to the school.

The first-year medical student did not apply for the scholarship -- designed to help train a new doctor every four years -- but was nominated by the school, she said.

Because of this scholarship and another she has received from the school, Heidt's four-year medical school tuition is covered.

"The generous scholarships from the school and the Walters family certainly have helped to lift the financial burden of attending medical school and have allowed me to follow my dream," Heidt said.

"They have also allowed me the freedom to explore all specialties within medicine without having to think as much about the financial aspects," such as choosing a specialty that allows her to repay her debt, she said.

The Walters Family Foundation Scholarship is for $10,000 per year, and the scholarship from the school is for $30,000 each year, she said. Both scholarships are for four years.

Heidt's first interest in medicine came from her mother, Darcy Heidt, who worked as a registered nurse.

Her mother said that Rachel often baby-sat, worked as a swim coach and lifeguard, and sometimes worked with her in assisted-living centers. Always, her daughter was working with and caring for people, Darcy Heidt said.

"She's worked very hard ever since she was young," Darcy Heidt said. "She owes it all to herself. She's always had a gift."

Despite her interest in medicine, Rachel Heidt didn't pursue it at first.

She received a bachelor's degree in psychology from New York University in 2009 before leaving to travel and volunteer.

Heidt's travels took her to Sitka, Alaska, where she cared for children diagnosed with various mental disorders. From there, she went to an orphanage in Thailand, where she cared for HIV-infected children.

That's when she knew medicine was her calling.

"It was inspiring for me to see the impact that a single physician could have" in Thailand, she said. "These life experiences, among others, have led me to where I am today, as (a first-year medical) student."

She returned and spent a year in Bryn Mawr's post baccalaureate premedical program before enrolling in Greenville. Heidt said she already had accumulated debt from her earlier schooling, but now she won't have to worry about compounding it.

Joan Easterling, one of Heidt's teachers from Beaufort High, said she wasn't surprised to hear about her experiences or successes.

"She was dedicated and very bright," Easterling said. "She enjoyed school and enjoyed learning and liked to be challenged."

Heidt said she looks forward to and is up for the challenge of medical school. She hasn't decided on a specialty, but said she is interested in both community and global health and would like to work with underserved populations.

"Working so intimately with people in a health care setting is a tremendous honor and privilege, and this is something that I really look forward to," she said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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