The road to becoming a surgeon for Marissa Mastrocola ’13

Marissa Mastrocola’s ’13 shares about how her experiences at Elon prepared her for a career in medicine.

Marissa Mastrocola’s road to becoming an orthopedic surgeon began when she decided to attend Elon University. She instantly felt a connection to the institution that would become her alma mater.

“I remember feeling like the atmosphere at Elon just felt right,” the 2013 alumna says. ”Everybody was so nice and seemed genuinely happy.”

During her time at Elon, Mastrocola was involved in a variety of activities across campus. She was an Honors Fellow who majored in exercise science with a minor in neuroscience and was a part of Anatomy TEATAPS (an anatomy teaching assistant program), Alamance Regional Medical Center Volunteers, Alpha Xi Delta sorority and she worked with Campus Recreation and Wellness. The scholarship she received as an Honors Fellow allowed Mastrocola to make the most of her time at Elon. “This allowed me to really get involved in all of the opportunities that Elon had to offer such as research opportunities, study abroad and the human anatomy lab,” she said.

Mastrocola ’13 (left) with colleagues

However, her path to becoming a surgeon was not immediately clear.

As an exercise science major at Elon, she was required to take a human anatomy class.

“During that class, I realized I loved learning about the human body. As an exercise science major, with a particular interest in exercise physiology and biomechanics, I was especially captivated by the musculoskeletal system,” she said.

“It was fascinating to spend a morning in the lab identifying muscle insertions and innervations, and later go to lectures about how those muscles and bones function to make the human body move. I realized that a career as a physician would allow me to continue these studies while also being able to help people every day,” Mastrocola said.

Mastrocola during surgery.

Once Mastrocola graduated from Elon she applied to be a research coordinator at the Cartilage Repair Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, serving in this role for about two years. She was able to get a glimpse of the clinical world of sports medicine and confirm her passion for medicine.

Now Mastrocola is working on completing her orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Massachusetts where her days tend to consist of many tasks.

“Every day as an orthopedic surgery resident is different — which is something I love about it! The day usually starts around 5:30 a.m. when I get to the hospital and check on the patients that we are taking care of,” she said. “Then the residents and attending doctors meet for a conference where we discuss patients who need surgery and review the patients who had surgery in the days prior. At this point as a chief resident, I spend the majority of the day in the operating room doing surgery or in clinic seeing patients.”

Despite the busy days, Mastrocola said the patients make it all worthwhile.

“My favorite part about being an orthopedic surgeon is the ability to get people back to doing the things that they love to do. I am a very active person, and I am passionate about the importance of daily movement. Being able to care for people who have an injury keeping them from their daily activities and being with them until they take their first steps again or get back to their favorite exercise class is so gratifying and I feel grateful to be able to play a role in that,” she said.

Once Mastrocola completes her orthopedic surgery residency at UMass this June, she is headed to Stanford University to pursue a fellowship in sports medicine. If she could offer advice to the Elon students now following in her footsteps, it would be this — trust yourself.

“You know you best. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t and don’t be scared of how long something will take to achieve. The time will pass anyway, you might as well be doing what you love,” Mastrocola says.