Chanute High School senior Abi Morris wears a self-made, filtered mask and shadows Dr. David Guernsey every Thursday at the Ashley Clinic to gain a deeper understanding of medicine and the human body.
Resuming her shadowing after some time off due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and while taking all precautionary methods, not only does Morris experience Dr. Guernsey treat patients, but she also assists in administering stiches and joint injections.
Morris, 17, first knew about the prospect of hands-on medical experience in 2018. About two years ago, thanks to a school medical club started by Chanute High senior and future Harvard student Jillian Vogel, Guernsey went to CHS and spoke to Morris and other students about his career journey. He asked Morris if she would like to shadow him.
Some of the medical tests for which Morris has been studying, along with her work in and out of classes, has led to some outstanding awards and scholarships. Those awards and scholarships include Biomedical Innovations Student of the Year, an elementary statistics honor (college credit class), GPA honor roll (3.86), Ashley Clinic Life Science Award, Rock Chalk award, Elks National Legacy, Dick Guinotte Memorial, Barb Keller Memorial, Main Street Chanute, Home Savings Bank and Bank of Commerce. These scholarships will pay for most of Morris’ tuition when she attends the University of Kansas this fall.
This year, Morris also completed the Project Lead the Way pathway, which is a series of biomedical classes that engage students in different areas of medicine. Completing the program earned the Chanute native her white coat.
“I think I knew I wanted to be a doctor during my sophomore year of high school,” Morris said. “I’ve grown up watching the positions in my community and that’s always inspired me. And taking the PLTW classes has also strengthened that interest. And I think my main goal is to help people and change lives for the better.”
At a very early age, Morris realized she wanted to help people and her parents helped steer her down the road of changing lives for the better.
“I had a lot of intrinsic motivation and my parents always supported me with any interest I might have, and any pathway that I might like to do,” Morris noted. “But it was mainly my own motivation that caused me to do so well.”
Morris has always succeeded in the classroom. In Chanute Elementary School, she was on the honor roll numerous times, and that continued through middle and high school. She also achieved several good character awards and the exemplary award for her score on state assessments in elementary school.
By the time she went to Royster Middle School, the future medical professional attained the Kid Character award, given out based on conduct and character.
In high school, Morris was proficient in several subjects. She was named Algebra I and II Student of the Year, Principles of Biomedical Sciences Student of the Year, Anatomy and Physiology Student of the Year, and earned an academic letter in the Distinguished Reading program as a junior.
Morris was interested in healthcare earlier than high school, but the goal of actually becoming a doctor emerged in the Principles of Biomedical Science class her sophomore year. In this class, Morris was given the opportunity to dissect a sheep brain, and that experience ballooned into an interest to follow the PLTW medical pathway – and eventually earn that white coat.
By the time Morris accumulated all these honors and awards, including accolades during her senior year, she had a pretty good idea of her direction for the immediate future. So she researched institutions of higher learning where she could study medicine and decided that the University of Kansas was the place for her. Pittsburg State University was also on the table initially because of its track record of science majors and assisting students in enrolling in medical school.
“For premedical students, they tell you to pick your end goal first, and then work backwards from that, so first I assumed I would like to go to KU Med, and after that, I looked at what colleges are best that would prepare me for KU Med, and about 48 percent of the KU Medical students went to KU,” Morris said. “They also have a lot of top-level learning facilities as well as instructors. And they have more majors dedicated to sciences.”
Morris’ parents, Brian and Alison Morris, are proud of their daughter and the way she has worked hard and done what it takes to be successful.
“We’re super proud of all that she is,” Alison said. “She’s always been an excellent student who self-motivates. It will be amazing to watch her bloom in the biomedical sciences at KU. Her dad and I couldn’t be happier to see her making the plans and doing the work to achieve her dream.”
Morris is one step closer to that dream. While much of the country is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, KU has recently announced that the university will fully open its campuses this coming fall. The school’s fall orientation, however, will be online.
But a little adjustment won’t halt her from accomplishing her biggest goal in life, especially since the Chanute community and other organizations have backed Morris’ efforts.
“I feel very honored to have won the scholarships that I did, and it feels amazing to have the support of my hometown,” Morris said.