- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Brianna Zanders had seen the diagrams in books, and she even held three-dimensional models in her hands.

But they just couldn’t do the real thing justice.

“It was so funny. I thought I was going to be grossed out. But it was so amazing - the heart beating right there. In a person’s chest,” said Zanders, 18, whose recent opportunity to shadow a cardiac surgeon included standing alongside in the operating room during a bypass.

Before that experience in January, Zanders had never thought about going into the surgical side of the medical field.

“Now I don’t know. I might want to be a surgeon.”

The Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1ZHLXfz ) reports that whatever goal she settles on, the Cascia Hall Preparatory School senior has been working hard all of her young life to put herself in a position to go after it. Recently, Zanders, a Broken Arrow resident, was recognized as a 2016 National Merit Scholarship winner. Additionally, she applied and was accepted by 11 of the nation’s top colleges and universities, including Harvard University, the one she has decided to attend.

Among the others accepting Zanders were Ivy League schools Princeton, Yale, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania, along with six other top-ranked institutions - Duke, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, Rice, Washington University in Saint Louis and the University of Oklahoma Honors College.

Zanders said she’s pretty much always wanted to be a doctor.

“I’m fascinated by anatomy, and I don’t think I could sit in a cubicle.” She’s an introvert, she added - but one that “still needs to talk to people and interact.”

Through the same Cascia Hall program that allowed her to tag along with a surgeon - a partnership with St. John Medical Center - she also was able to shadow family practice doctors. Dressed in scrubs as she accompanied them, she enjoyed watching how they related to their patients, she said.

But the surgeon - and the operating room experience - made the biggest impression. During the procedure, she said, the surgeon would say aloud what he was about to do so she could follow along.

Zanders chose the schools she applied to, she said, based on academic reputation, also looking at the strength of their faculties and alumni networks. Many of them, like Harvard, also boast top medical schools.

“The Ivies are a reach for everybody,” she said of deciding to apply to them. “But I stayed cautiously optimistic. I can’t say I expected it to turn out the way it has, though.”

The Ivy League schools kept Zanders in suspense. The last schools she heard from all sent her email alerts on the same day directing her to websites that would confirm whether she got in.

Sitting down with her dad at their computer, she checked them all. As each one in turn gave her the good news, she hardly knew how to react, she said.

“I was like ‘My gosh, this is happening.’ “

Her parents, Angela and Don Zanders, believe a lifelong love of reading has been key to their daughter’s academic success.

“She’s had a hunger for books since as far back as I remember,” Don Zanders said.

He recalls one morning ride to school when his daughter suddenly announced: “Dad, we have to go back. I forgot my shoes.”

She had been so engrossed in a book, holding it in her hands as she walked out of the house, “she still had on her big fuzzy slippers,” he said.

Zanders has continued to read voraciously, and she also writes. This year, she was editor of Cascia Hall’s twice-annual literary magazine, and she has had several short stories and poems published in Teen Ink, a national literary magazine and website.

Volunteering has been an ongoing interest, too. Zanders has donated her time to Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma for years, as well as at St. John hospital.

With testing lately, the busy senior hasn’t had much time to think about graduation. Cascia Hall’s commencement is set for May 27.

As for what comes after that - Harvard in the fall - it, too, is too much to dwell on right now, she said.

One thing Zanders has thought about: Massachusetts’ climate.

“It gets cold there, and I don’t do well with cold,” she said, and then added, laughing, “I guess I’m going to have to suck it up.”


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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