From Athlete to Doctor: Congratulations Nat

Nat's white coat ceremony  11-17-07 010

with cousin Marie

Over a decade after embarking on this journey, my daughter celebrated her official end to residency. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. Nor was I there when she graduated with honors from UWSP or for her White Coat Ceremony. She was only 5-years-old, the last time that I could help her with anything science related; I read aloud for the umpteenth time her favorite book about blood cells. Even her high school bio and chemistry was over my head. Where did the interest in science come from? There are no doctors in the family.

Yet she moved 4,000 miles away from home and stepped up to each challenge the medical field threw at her: MCAT exams, med school applications, interviews, boards. Do the math: 4 years undergrad, 4 years medical school, 3 years residency, rotating between dozens of different departments in a dozen different hospitals and clinics. What kind of commitment and resiliency sees one through such a grueling ordeal?


the wild bunch

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any female doctors, lawyers or pro basketball players.
I carved my own path to become a pro athlete, then raised my daughter to believe she could do anything she put her mind to. When I was invited to UWSP to speak about women’s sports, they also asked Nat to share how Title IX and her experiences as a student athlete impacted her academic career.

“In 1970, less than 8% of physicians were women,” Nat said when she spoke with me at UWSP’s celebration hosting the 2014 NCAA Basketball Final Four Tournament. “My med school class at the University of Minnesota was about 50% female. Though I’ve faced sexism, both as an athlete and as a physician, I’m privileged to have grown up at a time where my gender was not a major handicap to pursuing my dreams. Title IX played a big part.”

I’d like to think that I taught her something worthwhile in the gym. Teams teach people skills. Yet none of her athletic experiences could prepare her for 70-80 hour weeks often caring for critically and sometimes terminally ill children.

“The theme of my personal statement for residency was coaching, and how it taught me to interact with kids and speak their language, a skill that I use every day as a pediatrician,” Nat said. “I use my history as an athlete to build rapport with my patients, whether it’s commiserating with an overachieving high school senior about the difficulties of balancing sport and school, or challenging the child who’s stuck in the hospital waiting for a transplant to a game of H.O.R.S.E. on a plastic hoop in his room.”

“Today, I’m still part of a team working towards a common goal, but instead of a
point guard and a post player, my teammates are nurses and doctors and patients’
parents,” she added. “The stakes are a lot higher, the losses so much greater. My job is incredibly rewarding, but it is also difficult.”

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that collegiate athletics prepared me for the challenges of residency; there’s no way it could have. Staying up for 30 hours straight managing critically ill patients makes preseason look easy. The pressure of trying to make a free throw at the end of the game is nothing compared to the pressure of trying to make the right decision when you have a life in your hands. And no experience, on or off the court,
can prepare you to sit down with the parents of the child you’ve been fighting to keep
alive and tell them that there’s nothing more you can do.”


with supporting team: uncle Dick and aunt Karen

“But what I do credit sports for, is teaching me to persevere. It’s on the basketball
court that I first learned that you don’t quit when things get tough. That when you’ve
made a commitment to your teammates, you owe it to them to follow through. That
when someone knocks you down, you better get right back up and keep playing.”

Right on. Doctors have to persist in the face of the greatest loss.

Though I regretted I wasn’t able to attend the U of M class of 2014s celebratory dinner, I was grateful her Mama Dos was standing in. With a hot meal, my sister, Karen, and brother-in- law, Dick, transplanted Minnesotans, helped restore her broken spirit after every set back.

As Nat concluded, “Those lessons learned on the playing field are valuable to every girl, whether she grows up to be a professional athlete or a doctor or a teacher or a stay-at-home mom, because regardless of what she chooses to do with her life, there will be challenges. And, to quote Nelson Mandela, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”


“little” brother Nic and cousin Hannah

Stand up and stand tall as you embark on your medical career. A pediatrics clinic in the Minneapolis area is gaining one extraordinary doctor.  And, from afar, your dad and I raised our glass to one extraordinary daughter.

Posted in education, family, health, inspiration, social view.


  1. Lovely, lovely, lovely and congratulations to one and all. A long road and a successful one, starting off with an incredible mom who dreamed big dreams for her girl. And rightly so.

    • Thanks, Cathy. I am still a bit awed because I never fathomed a medical career for my daughter because I grew up with a fear of doctors and hospital phobia. But I sure did encourage her to march to her own drumbeat and reach for her dreams.

  2. Wow! Congratulations to your daughter for this amazing achievement and to her parents and extended family for all the support given to her to get there! I can’t imagine how difficult it was to send your kids so far away and to not be able to share in every celebration along her grueling journey! Thankfully she was born into such a wonderful extended family that could fill in when you could not be there. I’m sure she will continue to conquer & grow in her field! Cheers to women in medicine!

    • Thanks, Marilyn. You are right, there are times when it was so difficult to be so far away. As a mom, you can appreciate why I was so grateful for family to be there when I could not. Kudos right back at you for supporting your own daughter’s journey in the medical field. I will be cheering her on long distance.

  3. Extraordinary indeed! And perseverance is closely related to resilience, which (they say) is the new “self-esteem”. Good job, Mom and Dad! You have every reason to be proud.

  4. How proud you must be, Pat. I feel like I have met Natalie through your lovely tributes. If I was still working, I’d love to be on her team.I have no doubt she learned “you don’t quit when things get tough” from her extraordinary mom ( and dad too!).Congratulations to all of you!

    • Thanks, Kathy. My hope for her is that she will have a nurse like you on her team when she starts that career in August. So glad you are on my team when it comes to support.

  5. Love this, Pat. You and your husband must be exceedingly proud (and rightfully so). It’s a true accomplishment to raise kids strong, caring, and ambitious, kids ready — and able — to tackle what Life sends them. Well done, my friend! I have no doubt Nat will be an asset to her profession AND a help to her young patients and their families. Don’t feel bad about missing the ceremonies — you were there in spirit and she knew/felt it!

    • Thanks for reminding me that I was there in spirit. Once they leave the nest, we have to remember that the fighting spirit we instilled stays with them. Like you said, I am confident she will be an asset to her profession, sharing her knowledge and compassion to help children heal.

  6. The connections between the court and the clinic are clear to see… This is the value of children being physical and gaining holistic experiences outside of the workplace. It is not something we can quantify, it is something that we feel and know. Well done to la famille McKinzie-Lechault for their hand in raising such a wonderful future doctor in Nat. Hug and love, Rachael xx

    • You are so right, we can never under estimate the value of those physical and holistic experiences gained through sport and movement especially in childhood. I know one of the reasons, Nat wanted to specialize in pediatrics was the chance to work with kids to encourage them to better health through diet and lifestyle choices. Thank you so much for your long distance supports and your astute comments in your lovely writing voice.

  7. Sis,
    Nat has “grit”, just like her Mama and Papa! Beautifully written about an amazing journey, starting With Nat’s parents following their own unique journey! I feel blessed and privileged to be a part of this journey with our Nathalie! Thank you for sharing her with Dukes and me and with the world! Te amo sis and bro!

  8. Congratulations to Nat (and her parents)! What an amazing accomplishment, Nat, and we know you
    will touch many, many lives with your compassionate care and insightfulness. You will be such a wonderful addition to the world of pedicatrics. So very proud of you!

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