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Andy Evans: A Calling Into Medicine

Andy Evans: A Calling Into Medicine

In high school, Andy Evans was a passionate musician and runner, but knew he could not do both in college while also pursuing his medical career.

"Most of the way through high school, I knew I wanted to run in college. I was accomplished at playing the piano and percussion," Evans said. "I would have attended music school and ran at the same time, but the combination doesn't exist. The best choice for me was the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. I needed a good academic school to make a living."

He began running in the seventh grade in the Malone (New York) Central School District, which had a prominent running program, but later moved to nearby Massena, which had no running teams.

At Massena, he was the only male runner on his high school team. "In some ways, it was better because I could customize my training," Evans remarked. "The significant downside to not having teammates was there was no buffer or way to dissipate highly competitive situations."

Without team competitions to run in, Evans went to many high-level meets on his own. Among his career highlights in high school were a 10th-place finish in the state championships as a sophomore and a runner-up finish at the highly-competitive McQuaid Invitational in Rochester.

"The thing I liked about Andy was that he won races. His times weren’t always fantastic but he won," said Tim Hale, a University of Rochester Hall of Famer who coached cross country and track & field for 26 years. "That instinct to want to go out and win is a rare commodity. You can always train someone to run faster."

Fortunately for Evans, he came in contact with Harold Muller, who was working with the junior varsity program at the time and went on to become the head coach of the boy's cross country and track & field teams at Chittenango High School. "We were essentially training partners," Evans recalled. "We did it all together - speed runs and distance runs. He was never standing on the side."

"Andy was great to work with. The guys who came from small programs really benefitted from being part of our overall team program," Hale said. " Freshmen in our program didn't have pressure to produce and that allowed them to be very productive. They were not worried about making a mistake or letting the team down by not running."

His first race with the Yellowjackets was at Johns Hopkins University in 1994 after being sidelined with a stress fracture for several months. He found success quickly, particularly at the UAA Cross Country Championships.

"UAAs were always a favorable experience for me," Evans commented. He earned first team All-Association honors in cross country in his freshman and sophomore years in 1994 and 1995 before winning his first UAA titles in the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters at the 1996 Indoor Track and Field Championships in Cleveland.

The 1996 UAA Cross Country Championships were hosted by Washington University. "St. Louis was an extremely fast course," Evans recalled. "It was the second fastest eight-kilometer time of my entire college career behind the Notre Dame Invitational, which was all flat."

He carried that momentum into the winter when he swept the 1,500-, 3,000-, and 5,000-meter runs at the 1997 Indoor Track and Field Championships hosted by Brandeis University. He also captured the 10,000 meters at the Association outdoor meet in April.

Midway through his collegiate career, Evans needed to choose a major. "I couldn't be a music major and have a competitive running career," he stated. "I continued to take music lessons and decided to major in biochemistry, which was liking taking graduate level courses as an undergraduate."

Brandeis served as host of the 1997 UAA Cross Country Championships where Evans capped off his cross country career with his second consecutive individual title. "I was completely psyched the last time because it was like pre-nationals," he remembered. 

"Andy benefited by having other guys who were just as good as him or even a little better when he first got there," Hale stated. "It is a tremendous advantage for distance runners or any athlete to have to work hard. He was a good athlete right from the start. He just remained an outstanding runner for four years."

After his repeat UAA title just weeks before, Evans was excited for the 1997 NCAA Cross Country Championships in Boston, but things did not go as planned. "I bombed at nationals," he said. "The course was a mud pit. I was with the leaders for about two miles and then a couple of guys pulled away and I couldn't keep up with them."

"By the end of my college career, I had gotten a little burned out," Evans commented. "Studies had come to a head with all the finals and a thesis. You had to get that done. I was still hoping to get into medical school. I knew I needed to do really well with my grades to remain competitive. My backup was to be a biological researcher. There were a lot of challenges to running with all of that."

"He wanted badly to get into medical school," Hale recalled. "He was in absolutely phenomenal shape, but the stress of academics was not always helpful for his running."

Taking the 5,000-meter run at the 1998 UAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Evans finished his career with nine individual UAA titles (two cross country, five indoor track, two outdoor track). He was part of five UAA team champions with the Yellowjackets winning cross country titles in his first three years, the indoor title his freshman season, and the outdoor title his senior year.

"There was a tremendously positive impact from being at the U of R and in the UAA," Evans stated. "It was incredibly valuable for all of us to have been at prestigious schools where demands on academics and athletics are parallel. It was great to associate with, and compete against, people from these great institutions."

One former competitor ended up as Evans' brother-in-law. "He was a competitive runner at Brandeis at the same time I was competing. I only knew of him from disliking his presence on the track," Evans chuckled. "I remember when I won the 1,500 at Case Western Reserve one year, there were some elbows thrown. He was involved with that. We came to that realization 10 years later when I was dating my now wife."

One of Evans' favorite aspects of being in the UAA was traveling to the cities hosting the championship. "At that time in life, it was a lot of fun to become familiar with the cities because of the travel opportunities," he said. "I remember going to the St. Louis Zoo, the Coca-Cola Museum, and baseball games. I enjoyed the docks in Cleveland, going to Baltimore, and have many great memories in Boston. It was a really cool set of opportunities that we talked about in routine terms at the time, but they have become formative in my life. It was a diversity of opportunities, many of which I have never done again."

"The UAA was still viewed as an experiment when I got to Rochester," he remarked. "It has not been modeled at other institutions. There are tremendous and wonderful things that come from being involved in the UAA and our experiences. It helps prepare athletes at the national level and puts them at the forefront of national championships."

The academic rigor of being at a UAA institution served Evans well. "I did really well in the undergraduate portion in biochemistry and I wanted to take on the extra challenge to get into medical school and succeed."

"Andy had a great handle on things from the beginning," Hale added. "The type of kid who comes to a UAA school is driven to achieve and that is a great trait to have in athletes. It is easier to get them to focus that motivation they already have."

Evans attended the Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine with an interest in orthopedic surgery. "After the first half of the first year of medical school, the students agreed to write down what specialties we thought others would have," he recalled. "Those were collected and the results were not revealed until match day near the end of the fourth year. On match day, I found out that everyone predicted I would be in family medicine. Orthopedic surgery is basically the opposite of that. I wanted to bring the family medicine personality to surgery."

He maintained a competitive running career for the first two years of medical school and formed a running club at Loyola so he had people to run with. "It was extremely challenging, but I still ran a number of competitive races those two years," he recalled. "I particularly remember winning the Tommy Hilfiger 5K in Lincoln Park on a hot, steamy Saturday morning, running just under 15:00."

While fulfilling his residency at State University of New York Upstate Medical University Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Evans developed a specific interest in orthopedic trauma. In 2007, he received a one-year fellowship in Orthopaedic Traumatology at the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center, one of the best trauma programs in the country. Generally, only five or six people received the fellowship each year and it gave Evans the opportunity to learn not only in the state of Washington, but also Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and Montana.

After his fellowship, Evans began working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, serving as Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. At UPMC Mercy Hospital, he served as the Chairman of the Quality Committee, and as a member of the Medical Executive Committee. After eight years in Pittsburgh, he took a position as co-director of orthopedic trauma at Rhode Island Hospital and assistant professor at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

"I have been very privileged to be the given the opportunities I have," Evans said. "I feel lucky to do what I do. I would not have been afforded the opportunities I have had at Brown had it not been for the research opportunities I was offered in Pittsburgh."

He spent the first several months of his new position on his own with his wife and three children still in Pittsburgh. His wife is also an orthopedic surgeon and eventually moved her practice to Providence so the family could be together.

Through all the hard work, Evans is confident he is right where he needs to be. "I reason I went into orthopedic trauma was that ultimately I felt it was a calling," he said. "It affords me the opportunity to take care of people who presented in a way in which they needed help and care. It is the simplistic idea of helping people get through challenging situations. They arrive on the, or one of the, worst days of their life. You get to evaluate their situation as they progress. It is an issue that will affect them the rest of their life and you can make a difference from that day forward. My job has a lot of variety. Surgeries are not repetitive and trauma can be anything. Every day is completely different."