Dr. Lindsey Ross earned an undergraduate degree at Stanford University, her medical degree at UCLA, and won a prestigious scholarship to study neuroscience at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She says she never would have dreamed of attaining such lofty goals if it had not been for a now-retired math teacher and college counselor at The Park School, who pushed her to believe in herself.
“Heather Roberts was extremely instrumental in my college application process,” says Ross, who, three years after graduating from medical school, is serving her residency at Cedars-Sinai. “She made me believe I was a strong candidate and encouraged me to apply to places I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying to. I honestly feel bad for every other high school student who didn’t have a Heather Roberts. She made sure our college applications were on time and pristine. She suggested various types of schools and was very good at highlighting our strengths.”
Ross was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of two physicians, Dr. Lisa Nicholas, an OB/GYN, and Dr. Marvin Ross, an internist. When she was 12 years old, Ross moved with her mom to Buffalo after the latter took a job as a physician with the Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center, which was located at Erie County Medical Center. Dr. Nicholas had grown up in Williamsville, but Western New York was a new experience for her LA-born and bred daughter.
“Imagine the shock!” Ross says. Her mom took her to tour a few different schools, and she “instantly fell in love with the Park spirit,” she recalls.
“I knew this place would allow me to be an individual,” she says. “People were not put in different classes based on their perceived intelligence. One wasn’t expected to participate in a certain activity because of what they looked like.”
In 2008, during her second year attending the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Ross received the Pauletta and Denzel Washington Family Gifted Scholars Program in Neuroscience Award, which meant working at Cedars-Sinai while going to medical school. The actor Denzel Washington and his wife are personally involved in choosing who receives the scholarship.
The award was a pleasant surprise. “I hadn’t narrowed down my field to neuroscience,” she says. “I didn’t think it was possible that the Washingtons would pick me.”
Now back at Cedars-Sinai for her residency, Ross says her career is full of challenges.
“Residency is a grueling process, especially a neurosurgical training program,” she says. “The time commitment is approximately 80-100 hours per week of patient care, operating, reading, studying, and writing. The emotional toll of daily death requires serious coping skills. Changing and saving lives is extremely gratifying, though, and I am grateful to have this opportunity.”
She adds that neurosurgeons may not always be the smartest people in the room, as the stereotype has it, “but we sure work the hardest!”
Ross says she would not have dreamed she could be a neurosurgeon “if I wasn’t installed at Park as a 13-year-old to free my mind and reach as high as I could imagine.”
Another former Park teacher, Steve Dombrowski, was particularly influential.
“I am still amazed that Mr. Dombrowski challenged us to write one essay every week and that we actually did it. It helped to improve our writing skills and our broader knowledge. he would then challenge me on the basketball court in the afternoon to become a stellar athlete, team player, and leader. He was definitely like a second dad. Since my father was in Los Angeles, I enjoyed having a positive male role model and teacher.” Ross was captain of the basketball and soccer teams at Park.
During her senior year, she opted to take college courses at Daemen College. “That experience prepared me for the rigor of higher learning. I don’t know many students who are fortunate enough to get an education like I had.”
Ross says that as the daughter of two physicians, “I did not want to become a doctor growing up. But sometimes in life you don’t choose your destiny, it chooses you. I definitely tried to fight it, but this is what I knew best. Now I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”