UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Zoé Bouchelle knows soccer like the back of her hand. A former midfielder for the Penn State Nittany Lions women’s soccer team, Bouchelle knows that dedication and teamwork are key to success. It is her heart and her commitment to others that sets her apart. That’s what made her a great teammate. Today, that’s what makes her an even better doctor.
Student-athlete, mentor, leader, resident, compatriot and pediatrician are just some of the titles that Bouchelle has carried in her name throughout her life. Her journey from Happy Valley to Harvard Medical School was unconventional and shaped by opportunities found in unlikely places. But one thing remained true, Bouchelle’s life was shaped by a desire to make the world a better place.
For Bouchelle, becoming a doctor wasn’t always part of the plan. Although she comes from a family rooted in the medical community, Bouchelle is committed to charting her own path. Her desire for an environment that would push her to her best led her to enlist with the Nittany Lions.
“I chose to go to Penn State because one, I wanted to play college football in a really competitive place, and two, I wanted to get a good education,” she said. “I was blown away by the resources.”
Bouchelle has found and established success on and off the field. She can fondly recall her years at Jeffrey Field. However, it is the bonds she forged with her teammates off the pitch that remain her most cherished memories.
“They’ve been my most valued relationships for the past 15 years since I graduated,” she said.
From bus and hotel connections on road trips, to Final Four competitions, to international travel and all the time at home in between, Bouchelle stresses the importance of building strong relationships and the impact lasting that they have in life.
And it wasn’t just his teammates who left him that lasting impact.
“I am incredibly grateful to coaches Erica Dambach, Anne Cook and Michael Coll for their leadership, mentorship and friendship,” she said. “They were much more than just coaches for me.
Their role in Bouchelle’s life still influences her and the culture she builds in her workplace today.
“I feel like even in medicine, I’m thinking about how to create a culture or a team that mimics some of what I had on the Penn State football team. So that shows you at how much that resonates with you and how good of a job they are doing in building that environment for people.”
By staff and coaches, especially the assistant coach Anne Cook, Bouchelle discovered a non-profit organization, Soccer Sans Frontières, and had the opportunity to contribute to the organization during his college studies. After having had the chance with some of her teammates to volunteer at a summer camp abroad, Bouchelle “fell in love” with the organization and the work they were doing to use soccer as a tool for development. young people, especially girls.
This experience has shaped her in a multitude of different ways. This served as a springboard that launched her on the next part of her journey, working full-time for the international non-profit organization.
“I really don’t think I can overstate the importance of Penn State’s role as both a student and an athlete in my post-college experience and in pursuing medical school and becoming a doctor,” said she declared.
Bouchelle was offered a postgraduate position with Soccer Without Borders and spent just under a year living and working in Granada, Nicaragua, in what she describes as one of the most formative of his adult life.
Through this organization, soccer served as an outlet for mentorship, service and inspiration beyond the game itself.
“A lot of the kids we worked with and often played football with didn’t have access to some of the basic necessities that you hoped they would have,” she said. “I think it opened my eyes to this opportunity to think a little more about the upstream drivers of health and the opportunities for children.”
While in college, Bouchelle faced her own personal tragedies when her father fell ill. Reflecting on his experience of helping look after him combined with his passion for looking after young people, his next path seemed to be in training.
“I think through that experience I started to think more about what I wanted my life to be like. I realized I found meaning in caring for sick people. And so through it all , I thought a little about my work with children and a little about my desire to work with people who were sick and to merge those two things together.”
The journey shaped by opportunity and tragedy led her to Harvard Medical School, and a career where she feels she can make a profound difference in the lives of others.
“I feel really lucky because my job now as a pediatrician, I can really do all of those things, which is to work with children to address some of the social factors in their health and then also provide them with health care as a doctor,” she says.
Throughout her time at Harvard Medical School, Bouchelle developed her love for community outreach and became passionate about non-traditional ways of providing health care.
She researched a mobile health clinic called The Family Van that travels to underprivileged communities to provide preventative health care and social services, and was invested in how to reach people in ways that are not conventional through health care.
“I became really passionate about this work and some of the creative ways to reach children and adults,” she said. “Not just providing healthcare, but really having a 360 degree view of their health.”
Today, Dr. Zoe Bouchelle impacts the lives of children every day through her work as a general pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is also a member of the National Clinical Scholar Program at the University of Pennsylvania and a health policy researcher.
Her courage and resilience, skills she credits learning while playing team sports, have rewarded her with a career in which she has found indescribable meaning.
She knows that many student-athletes are in her shoes. Whether it’s finding purpose after college athletics or amid non-traditional journeys in search of the “right” next step, she knows firsthand what it’s like to hit the road less traveled. .
“Trust the process, trust yourself, give yourself time to explore, take risks, venture a little and I guarantee people will find their footing.”