Medical student defies the odds to become a doctor

For most people, the thought of going through medical school is daunting, but what if during your studies you were struck with a rare disorder that rendered you paralysed?

That is what happened to University of Dundee student Elizabeth Ferris (30), who will collect her medical degree on Friday, 23rd June. Ever since she was a little girl she held firmly to the dream of becoming a doctor. She was busy working on making that dream happen when she fell ill during her second year.

She was diagnosed with Vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. Coupled with blindness in one eye, the inflammation then struck her spine. As a result of this life changing illness she had to take three years out from her studies.

She said, “I’d never heard of a doctor in a wheelchair and when you’re re-learning how to do the simplest of tasks, medical school is the last thing you’re thinking about. But once I started to feel better, I contacted School of Medicine and they made it all happen.

“I have found that medicine in a chair is doable. Hospitals are made for beds and there’s nowhere a bed can go that I can’t. I can do everything every other doctor does, just maybe in a slightly different way.”

During her rehabilitation, Elizabeth was introduced to wheelchair rugby league, and when she returned to Dundee, she was disappointed to find there were no disability team sports in the city. She decided to set up her own club and formed The Dundee Dragons in 2013. The club caters for all ages and abilities, with the focus on maximising sporting potential regardless of a player’s ability. They have had to expand from rugby due to demand and now offer basketball, tennis, badminton and curling.

Through the support of University staff, her family and friends, Elizabeth has overcome many challenges that would have defeated most people.

She said, “I started medicine as a fit young twenty-something, no different to any of my peers. Then I returned as someone who was chronically unwell.

“My life had changed so much in so many ways, but I was determined to finish what I’d started, and I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to continue.

“If I could put it in letters and massive words in the sky how wonderful the School of Medicine is, I would. If it wasn’t for everyone, from the office staff, to the Dean, I wouldn’t be graduating.”

If graduating was not enough of an achievement for Elizabeth, she has also been named as one of this year’s winners of the University’s Wimberley Award. This is given to a student who has made the most distinguished contribution to university life.

Elizabeth now hopes to move into rehabilitation medicine to help people who have been in a similar situation to her.

The University’s Summer Graduation ceremonies take place in the Caird Hall in Dundee from Wednesday, 21st June to Friday, 23th June. Morning and afternoon ceremonies will take place each day as almost 3000 graduates from around the world receive their degrees.

For media enquiries contact:
Cara Longmuir
Media Relations Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
Tel: +44 (0)1382 385243