Dr. Sandra Carnahan

Dr. Sandra Carnahan, Academy Alum To reach her professional dreams, Dr. Sandra Carnahan had to push herself beyond her limits.

“In the end, I realized that I wasn’t sure if I was good enough,” Carnahan says of her decision to pursue a medical degree. “But I wanted to see if I could do it. I thought of this as the ultimate career, and I wanted to try to do it.”

Toward that end, the 2005 graduate of Elgin High School’s Gifted and Talented Academy spent two years at Elgin Community College, two more at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and studied medicine at A.T. Still University in Kirksville, Mo.

“Medical school is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Carnahan, who has accepted a job in Wilmington, N.C. “They always say that med school is like drinking water from a firehose – they throw so much information at you so quickly.”

Her residency, by comparison, was no picnic, but, she explains, “it was getting to do what I really love doing – interacting with patients – which is better than sitting inside and reading books about patients.”

During her internship, she says, “you’d be lucky if you got a day off a week, and there were a lot of 12-hour shifts.”

Carnahan’s propensity for pushing herself beyond her known limits dates back, however, at least as far as her days at Elgin High School.

“I had never been in any kind of advanced program before … but when you have friends who are striving to do well in AP classes, it inspires you to do well.”

Carnahan particularly appreciated the esprit de corps among her Academy classmates.
“We were all nerds together and we never felt out of place in high school. I had always been at the top of the class; when I got to the Academy, it was a lot of people way smarter than me, and I had to try harder just to be in the middle of the pack.”

Carnahan says that esprit de corps extended to the faculty at the EHS Academy.
“All the teachers were fantastic, and they really cared about you and your learning. And it gave you a leg up when you went to college, because you really knew how to study.

“It was a very collaborative environment. Sometimes you see high school portrayed as mean girls and bullies, but I never had that experience. We all pulled together and we were a team. Most people I meet don't get to say they read Gilgamesh and the Mahabharata in school, or didn't get to go on a field trip to the Florida Keys and dissect a squid. Looking back, I was lucky to spend my formative years in a place that encouraged critical thinking, and where the other students became like family.”

And, in the end, it paid off for Carnahan and her classmates.

“The best thing about Elgin's gifted and talented academy is how it constantly challenged us and pushed us to make a difference in the world. My classmates have careers in medicine, teaching, music and the arts. And I think we have all done pretty well for ourselves.”