November 15, 2023
Dr. Sawicki is a retired family physician in Raleigh, where she continues to serve her community through the health ministry of her church, Meals on Wheels, and other outreach activities.
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Even before she attended college at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Sawicki had wanted to attend medical school. “I had wanted to go into medicine when I was in high school,” she says, “but we did not have the money.” But her undergraduate years had been tiring, she said: “I played four years of basketball, and I worked really hard to keep renewing my yearlong scholarships.” In addition to all her campus responsibilities, she had worked part-time to pay for her non-tuition expenses. “When I finished, I was exhausted,” Dr. Sawicki says.
So instead of applying to medical schools, she went to work at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a scientist in air pollution cancer research. She worked there for 14 years but often heard from the physicians she worked with that she should apply for medical school. “They said, ‘Carole, why didn’t you ever go to med school?’ I’d say, ‘It’s a long story.’” But when one of these physicians shared her resume with the dean for admissions at Duke, Dr. Sawicki heard directly from that dean that she ought to apply for medical school in North Carolina. And so she did and was accepted at all four North Carolina medical schools. She began medical school at UNC in 1987.
While she studied as a medical student, a great thing happened in Dr. Sawicki’s life: she learned from her advisor, Dr. Ed Shahady, that she wanted to become a family physician. “I just loved how connected he was with his patients,” Dr. Sawicki says. “I saw how much he cared and how much his patients trusted him and believed what he said. That was really the way I got steered into Family Medicine.”
Dr. Sawicki also had her daughter as an intern. When she completed her residency in 1996, she began working as a family physician in Raleigh while also raising her daughter. “My main goal was to get to know my patients and partner with them,” Dr. Sawicki says. “I needed to listen to them and let them know I cared for them.”
“When I finally got my medical degree, I always expected to continue practicing after retiring,” Dr. Sawicki says. And she has continued: that included her time as a member on the Medical Alumni Council at UNC, where Dr. Sawicki helped review critical issues facing the medical school to then advise the dean. Her second term on the council expired earlier this year. Her continuing work also included her role with Interact of Wake County, which administers safe health services to the victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault in part through a secure shelter where these patients can be connected with legal and medical help. Dr. Sawicki taught classes to residents at this shelter until COVID-19 restricted these classes to only Interact staff. “That was my passion,” she says. “I always wanted to do that. Even during and after my residency, I wanted to help victims escape their abusers.”
Now that her time with these two organizations is over, Dr. Sawicki has taken up new volunteer efforts through the health ministry of her church, where she is a deacon and an active member. “I help run the flu shot clinic for our members,” Dr. Sawicki says, “and I help teach our classes on CPR and AED.” She also delivers the medical equipment available at the church, ensuring that when someone undergoes surgery, a walker or wheelchair is ready for them. “I take it to the person or their family and sometimes teach them how to use it.”
But these are only the technical parts of her work for her fellow members’ health: Dr. Sawicki also serves on the bereavement committee, the largest and most active of the church’s committees for member welfare. When someone in the church congregation loses a loved one, the committee members visit and comfort them (often bringing meals). And that’s only the start of this community care: “We keep in contact with them for six months to see how they’re doing,” Dr. Sawicki says. As she tells it, caretaking like this relates back to how she practiced Family Medicine: “Family doctors see everybody,” she says. “To me, the caretaker for the whole family is the family physician. In this way I continue to use my medical skills for the people I always wanted to serve.”
And all the while, the caretaking that Dr. Sawicki has done included raising her daughter, who in 2022 graduated from the UNC School of Medicine. “I’m really proud of her. I had her as an intern in 1992, and thirty years later, she walked the same stage I did,” Dr. Sawicki says. “She's going to be a great doctor.”
For all that she has done during her retirement, Dr. Sawicki says, “There are still lots of things I want to end up doing, including helping my daughter finish her residency. My view of ‘retirement’ is a bit different, in that I don't feel that I’m ‘retired.’ I am just involved in many activities I am passionate about on the schedule I choose.”