Nikki Burish, Former Badger Hockey Champ, Ready to Become a Doctor
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A broken femur is an unusual reason to change careers, but for fourth-year medical student Nikki Burish, it was a game changer.
When she broke her leg, Burish was in her first undergraduate year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was studying economics and competing for the Badger Women’s Hockey Team. During her hospitalization to repair the bone, she started to picture herself as a physician.
“That was my first exposure to medicine,” she explains. “When I was in the hospital, I was interested in everything that was going on around me.”
Yet, following her recovery, the demands of balancing her studies while attending hockey practices and playing more than 30 games per year made it impossible for Burish to revamp her class schedule to pursue medicine.
“I was traveling so much to play hockey that my advisors told me a premedical curriculum was not an option,” she says. “However, medicine was something that I couldn’t stop thinking about.”
Finding Her Niche in Medicine
Burish completed her undergraduate degree in economics and captained the hockey team to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title in 2006.
She started working for an international business firm in Australia and playing professional hockey in Switzerland, but then decided to return to UW-Madison, where she took premedical courses for two years before entering the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) in 2009.
While pursuing her medical degree, Burish also completed a master of public health degree at Harvard Medical School, which she thinks will bring depth and strength to many areas of her career. After she graduates from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, she'll begin a plastic surgery residency at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York.
Until recently, Burish thought she would pursue an orthopedics specialty. However, during a plastic surgery rotation, conversations with instructors helped her realize that plastic and reconstructive surgery would be a good fit for her.
“I enjoy the breadth, diversity and impact of plastic and reconstructive surgery,” she explains. “In that rotation, one surgical procedure seemed even more interesting than the last,” she says. “I was excited about every day because the patients were so grateful, and the whole staff seemed happy. That’s what medicine is all about.”
A Natural Leader and Team Player
Burish also has been heavily involved in several other activities, including the Healthy Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit group run by students that provides grants for school programs to help make classrooms a healthier place to learn.
She has participated in the MEDiC student-run free clinics that serve low-income and homeless people; the Mentorship Achievement Program, in which medical students offer advice on life, sports, class work and friendships to elementary and middle school students; and Doctors Ought to Care (DOC), a program in which medical students provide health education in local schools.
Burish feels her experiences playing hockey and serving as the championship team’s captain will be instrumental in her medical career.
“A surgeon is someone people look up to, and everyone on the team plays a role,” she explains. “It’s a combination of realizing that you can be a leader, and that you value those around you. The whole team dynamic is important to me, and the SMPH does a great job of building team players and letting you know you are part of a team and a family.”
Badger Roots Run Deep
Burish admits that she misses hockey, which runs deep in her family. Her brother Adam served as the captain of the 2006 UW Men’s Hockey Team that won the NCAA championship, won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, and now plays for the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League. She enjoys watching her brother play hockey on television when she has the opportunity.
The hockey-playing siblings have Badger alumni parents, Mark and Helen Burish. Mark holds a law degree and Helen a bachelor’s degree and master of education degree from UW-Madison.
Proud of their daughter and son’s accomplishments, the couple has established the Adam and Nikki Burish Family Scholarship to support future Badger student athletes. School leaders have praised the family’s generosity to support an endowment, noting that it has a direct effect on the school’s ability to make available the best possible experience for student-athletes.
“Nikki embodies the spirit of the Burish family and the Badgers. She is dedicated to her goals and to UW-Madison, she works very hard, and she is generous with her time. She recognizes the value of her experiences at UW-Madison and wants to give back, just as her family has. We are so proud of her,” says Pat McBride, MD ’80, MPH, associate dean for students at the School of Medicine and Public Health.
Luckily, Burish still gets her hockey fix as the only female member of a UW intramural squad comprised of physicians, residents and students. The team plays at the Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center, also known as the Shell.
“There’s nothing like being on the ice and letting the cold air hit your skin,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to get out and be around other people with the same passion, blow off some steam, and work out some frustrations on the ice. I sometimes find myself in the penalty box after a hard exam or a long day.”
This article appears in the winter 2014 issue of Quarterly.
Date Published: 03/25/2014