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South Carolina Honors College

  • Maya Duffy

Honors student combines passion for medicine and outdoor adventure

If you can’t find Honors student Maya Duffy somewhere on campus, chances are she’s taken off for an outdoor adventure. Duffy is a junior majoring in biology with minors in statistics and medical humanities, but her passion is the great outdoors.

As a nature enthusiast, she loves spending her time hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and whitewater rafting, so she wanted to be able to incorporate her love for the outdoors with her interest in science and medicine.

“For a while, I struggled with the fact that I am super interested in medicine and was passionate about it, but really didn't want to be confined to the indoor, seven years of school aspect of that,” Duffy said.

Her wishes were answered when she went mountain biking a few years ago in North Carolina. There, she found offerings for different courses, and they eventually led to her interest in wilderness therapy and certification as a wilderness first responder. According to Duffy, wilderness therapy includes wildlife immersion programs, typically for adolescents, that help tackle issues with personal relationships and mental health.

This summer, she’ll be able to further explore her interests and put her wilderness first responder certification to use by working at Blue Ridge Wilderness Therapy in Georgia. She will be charged with guiding a group of adolescents through multiday wilderness immersion hikes, all while soaking up the beautiful nature around her.

In order to become a certified wilderness first responder, Duffy had to complete an intense training program that equipped her with the skills to treat injuries that commonly happen in the outdoors. Resourcefulness is a big focus of the wilderness first responder training, and she even learned how to build a stretcher out of things that she could find outside. Duffy also thinks that her experience as a wilderness first responder has left her with a lot of valuable medical experience in addition to the time that she’s spent shadowing in hospitals.

“I think that completing this course and being in high pressure medical situations really gave me insight into the level of internal calmness you have to have, and how to center yourself and make such important decisions on the spot without becoming overwhelmed by it,” Duffy said.

One of her biggest inspirations in pursuing a career in healthcare was her grandfather, who works as an ophthalmologist in Orangeburg, South Carolina. As a child, she spent a lot of time in his office, and saw firsthand the importance of the interactions that caregivers have with their patients. Another key aspect of her grandfather’s influence his pro bono work and seeing the positive impact that it leaves on the community.

“As I got older, I realized how important that was, how cool that was, and wanted to find ways to make a similar difference myself. And although I probably won't do ophthalmology, it was just seeing the impact that you can have as a medical doctor outside of just actual medical practice that really drove me toward a [career in medicine].”

As someone who doesn’t mind chaos and loves things constantly happening around her, Duffy hopes to go into emergency medicine. Last summer, she spent two months shadowing in an emergency room in rural South Carolina, and some of her favorite parts of her experience were the fast-paced environment and the wide scope of the things that the doctors get to do.

After graduation, Duffy hopes to go to a medical school in South Carolina, and eventually spend half of her time practicing medicine and the other half researching biomedical technology. Duffy thinks that research in biomedical technology is crucial to progress in healthcare and believes that there is a lot more that can still be improved.

As a future doctor, she also hopes to foster a more equal healthcare system in the United States and eliminate the boundaries that exist between the caregiver and the patient. Duffy also says that there are a lot of issues with how minorities, especially Black women, are treated within the healthcare system, and she wants to focus on getting rid of those inequalities.

“One of my biggest personal goals is to try and work actively against the racial and ethnic healthcare disparities that are really so prevalent, especially today in the United States,” Duffy said.

Duffy credits the Honors College with the courses and experiences that have exposed her to these issues. The healthcare inequality courses that she took through the Honors College and for her medical humanities minor gave her a more comprehensive perspective on the problems existing in the medical field, and they also showed her the duty that healthcare professionals have to fix them.

“I think it’s super important for any person who is going into the healthcare system to have a really intimate understanding of why these problems exist, how they came to be and how we can actively work against them as medical providers to work towards a better future,” Duffy said.

With medicine, biomedical technology and the great outdoors on her horizon, Duffy’s wide range of interests will ensure that she’s always keeping busy. And as she points her internal compass toward a career in emergency medicine, she’ll be sure to find new ways to satisfy her intellectual curiosity and appetite for adventure.

Haley Capps

Haley Capps

Haley Capps is a sophomore English and political science major and journalism minor in the Honors College and is from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In her free time, she loves baking, yoga and reading old books.

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