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M. Nicole Harrison-Evans ’98

Comprehensive Ophthalmologist; Medical Student Course Director; Co-Director, International Cataract Course, Department of Ophthalmology, Medical University of South Carolina

When I started out as a freshman at Princeton, my major was engineering. I always knew I would be involved in medicine as a career, I just wasn’t sure how. I also had an interest in science. To combine both of those interests, I thought biomedical engineering would be the perfect field for me. However, the more science courses I took, the more detached I became from medicine—not just medicine, but the fundamental basis from which medicine evolves, taking care of the patient. 

I was fortunate enough to take a few history and sociology courses during my first two years of undergraduate studies, and as a result, my interest in social science evolved. As a sociology major, I was able to study society as a science and to appreciate how societal infrastructures influence law and health care. I believed I could apply this knowledge to a career in medicine. My senior thesis was on “Infant Mortality Rates among Blacks and Whites: Failure to Close the Gap.” I graduated with a degree in sociology with a minor in African American studies.

Chasing a dream

After college, I ran professional track and field for a few years before I went to medical school. While at Princeton, I received All-America honors in the 55-meter hurdles. I was fortunate enough to compete in the NCAAs, the USA National Championship, and the Olympic trials in 2000 in Sacramento, California. I decided to postpone medical school to pursue one of my passions—track and field. I thought it would be the only time in my life to pursue this dream, given its brief statute of limitation. I trained in Houston, Texas, and worked as the Houston area marketing manager for Gatorade-Quaker Oats while I trained for the 2000 Olympics. 

My plan was to make the U.S. team and give it my all at the Olympics. As fate has it, that was not the plan. I made it all the way to the semifinal heat. I was, unfortunately, in a stacked heat. Therefore, the five fastest women in the competition were in my heat. Only the top four in each heat advance to the finals, regardless of time. I ran my personal best that year, during that race. I finished fifth in my heat. Although my time was faster than two of the other times in the second heat, I did not qualify for the final heat. 

A social outlook to medicine

I hung up my spikes and prepared myself for the next phase of my life, my career. I entered medical school that same year at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and completed a residency in ophthalmology four years later. I am now a comprehensive ophthalmologist on the faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina. I am the co-director of the international cataract course and the medical student course director. I have a multifaceted position that brings me great satisfaction. My strong interest in academia is fulfilled on several levels. 

My studies have helped me with all of my social relationships. I am able to step back and analyze, not scientifically, a situation to make better choices. I am able to examine the structure, interactions, and collective behaviors and strategically provide critical, valuable input. These techniques have benefited me as I sit on several hospital committees and community appointments. Princeton has prepared me for a great future.