Children often dream about becoming doctors. Erin Gillaspie’s goal was even more specific. At age 13, she knew she wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and when she applied for the John M. and Mary A. Shanley Scholarship, she was well on her way.
“I was a unique applicant,” says the 2002 Lemon Bay High School graduate. “I earned my first college degree in high school.”
Gillaspie completed her bachelor of science at the University of Florida in two years and graduated from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in 2008. Residencies and internships took her to hospitals in South Carolina and New York. Gillaspie also received advanced training through scholarships and fellowships from the prestigious Mayo Clinic, most recently completing its surgical training program.
“I knew I wanted to do this since I was a little 13-year-old in oversized scrubs sitting in the operating room watching my first case,” says Gillaspie. “I’ll never forget that day or my first day as an attending walking into my office knowing I accomplished this because of people like the Shanleys. I also remember interviewing with the Southwest Florida Community Foundation for the scholarship. Everyone was kind, compassionate and excited for me.”
An assistant professor in thoracic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as well as the director of its thoracic surgery robotics program, Gillaspie is now balancing studies for a master’s in public health while pursuing her passion in research, exploring targeted treatments for lung cancer patients. She’s authored numerous articles for medical journals and presented at several conferences.
“It’s chaos and wonderful at the same time,” she says with a laugh. “The Shanley scholarship was the biggest award I received. I thank them for supporting students and making dreams come true. I literally get to live my dream every single day.”
The John M. and Mary A. Shanley Scholarship is a four-year annual $5,000 scholarship awarded to high school graduates in Charlotte, Hendry or Lee counties studying medicine, law, dentistry, teaching (math and science), ministry, engineering, accounting, agriculture, architecture or computer science. Students must document financial need and maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.