From T-shirts to white coats: Exercise and sports science alumni begin medical school journeys

Students in The University of Tulsa’s exercise and sports science (EXSS) program have a broad range of career goals. Some want to become athletic trainers. A good number want to work in fitness centers. Others go into teaching or rehabilitation. And, a healthy proportion wants someday to become a physician, physician assistant or some other sort of medical professional.

“Currently, nearly a quarter of EXSS students follow the program’s pre-medicine track,” said Eric Wickel, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences. “This plan includes the required prerequisites for medical school and it provides students with hands-on application in courses such as Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics. Many EXSS students taking the pre-medicine track also participate in faculty-led or student-driven research projects focused on understanding human movement.”

Two such students are recent EXSS graduates Madeline Lyons (BS ’18) and Kelson Goins (BS’19). Both are now in their first year of doctor of medicine studies – Lyons at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa and Goins at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Goins sees his medical future in orthopedics. Two options he is considering are surgery or sports medicine. For Lyons, a career as a pediatrician is the goal.

Real-world training and clinical knowledge

Even though it’s still the first semester of med school for these TU alumni, they are already reaping the rewards of their EXSS studies. “Kinesiology and the prevention and treatment of sports injuries are extremely important to the gross anatomy course I’m now taking,” said Goins. Lyons echoed these insights, adding that completing anatomy and physiology courses (plus anatomy and physiology labs) during her undergraduate studies gave her a head start when she got to medical school.

“I also learned a lot about biomechanics from Professor Roger Kollock at TU, and that is proving useful when I’m dealing with movement and musculoskeletal exams,” Goins continued. “Overall, I’d say it’s the functionality and practicality of the EXSS program – its emphasis on real-world understanding and clinical knowledge – that is proving most valuable. Those dimensions don’t get emphasized as much in some of the more common pre-med majors.” Lyons added, “it’s the clinical correlations skills you get in EXSS that make such a difference when you arrive at med school.”

Research opportunities

An important component in a person’s application to medical school is research experience. During her time at TU, Lyons was involved with Kollock’s Biomechanics Lab for over two years as part of the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). “That lab has all the equipment – such as a myoMOTIONTM machine, force plates, functional movement screen equipment, an accelerometer – needed when running various biomechanics and exercise physiology tests. The experience taught me the fundamentals of research as well as how to prepare a presentation. In addition, you want to have a very competitive résumé when you apply to med school, and through TURC I was able to accomplish that too.”

Exercise and sports science alumnus Kelson Goins
Kelson Goins (BS ’19)

Goins has a similarly positive regard for the research component of his EXSS studies. Working closely with Professor Davis Hale on his hydration-methods project, Goins noted, “not only looked fantastic on my résumé but was invaluable when talking to med-school admissions committees.” Goins’ main tasks were setting up testing sessions, running participants through the trial and managing and compiling data. “Taking part in experiences like these not only helps you grow as an individual but also helps you stand out in the applicant pool.”

Looking at it from the professorial side, Hale remarked that his former student “was instrumental in the conceptualization of our hydration pack configuration study. Goins’ ability to work closely with human subjects confirmed his potential for personalized care in a clinical setting. I know his TURC experience will benefit him during his medical school training.”

In addition to engaging in research, Goins also recommends actually working in health care while on the EXSS pre-med track. For his part, over the course of three years Goins accumulated approximately 2,000 hours of direct patient contact by working as a surgical assistant in a hospital. “I still had ample time for classwork and a social life,” he noted, “and the experience of working first with patients first hand showed me where I want to be in the future.”

Do something you genuinely like

“This program prepared me better for medical school than any other could have,” Goins observed. “EXSS is a great option for someone looking at going into medical school,” added Lyons. “The EXSS program not only set me up well for my classes in med school, but also for getting the science GPA you need and for taking the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®).

“But it was also a major I genuinely liked, and one of the things they tell you when you’re thinking of becoming a physician is that you can major in something you enjoy. EXSS fits the bill. It’s fun. It’s interesting. I loved it.”


As Eric Wickel noted at the outset of this article, EXSS has a track specially designed for people whose sights are set on medical school. Find out more about this energetic, forward-looking program and see whether it’s right for you.