Live To Inspire: Nevena Zubcevik ’00

April 2, 2015

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When it comes to finding your path in life, Nevena Zubcevik ’00 believes there is no right way to do anything. When her family left war-torn Bosnia in 1992 and returned home to Macedonia, she never thought her journey would lead to finishing high school in upstate New York and attending college in south central Texas. Now an attending physician at Harvard Medical School, Zubcevik said while her life has always been a bit unconventional, she remembers how she found her niche at Texas Lutheran University.

“TLU offers so many opportunities to belong and I felt important to the TLU community,” Zubcevik, biology major, said. “The school caters to all its students. The professors develop individuals beyond just the classroom. I had a family member who was a surgeon and another involved in sports medicine so I always kind of knew I wanted to enter those areas. When I came to TLU and had the chance to be a teaching assistant, as well as a student instructor for many biology and athletic training courses, it gave me the confidence and competence I needed. By learning and teaching, it solidified my knowledge.”

When she began applying to graduate schools to earn her master’s in physical therapy, Zubcevik said the support from Biology Professors Bob Jonas and the late Deb Hettinger was phenomenal.

“Dr. Jonas and Dr. Hettinger were very influential for me,” Zubcevik said. “The summer research I did with Dr. Jonas was a unique opportunity that enhanced my learning. And Dr. Hettinger was a force. I was a teaching assistant for her anatomy class and she really got to know me. They both did. When they wrote letters of recommendation for me to get into graduate school, they not only included my success in the lab, but my personality. I believe their letters wowed admissions people because it was about who I was as a person too.”

Those letters, and her own hard work and dedication, earned Zubcevik a spot in the University of California at San Francisco’s prestigious physical therapy school. UCSF only admits 32 students per year to their program. After graduating in 2002, and working as a physical therapist for several years, she was motivated to earn her D.O. in osteopathy.

“I saw a gap between patients and physicians and I wanted to make a difference for people with chronic pain,” Zubcevik said. “As a doctor, you have to be a good listener. I wanted to integrate my hands with holistic medicine in the areas of physical medicine and rehabilitation.”

She began school at Touro University in Vallejo, Calif. in 2006. As a medical student and an avid free diver—a person who relies on their own ability to hold their breath until resurfacing rather than on the use of a breathing apparatus such as scuba gear—Zubcevik once again decided it was time to walk a new path. A vacation to Hawaii during her second year inspired her and her husband, an underwater photographer, to eventually move there in 2009.

“People told us we were crazy,” Zubcevik said. “Most of my life has been unconventional and I’ve never tried to fit in. I walk a path and if it doesn’t look right, I go another way. I’ve always tried to find my own way and when we wanted to move, I just went to the school and asked if I could complete my clinical rotation at the University of Hawaii. I arranged it and we lived in Hawaii for six months. We were able to do lots of free diving and it was wonderful.”

After a brief move to Hawaii, Zubcevik and her husband moved to Florida where she began a rotating internship at St. Petersburg General Hospital. And when Harvard Medical School called offering her to do residency there, she and her family once again followed a new path. Zubcevik said she immediately fell in love with Harvard.

“The academic curiosity and funding opportunities here for me now as an attending physician are almost unmatched,” she said. “I have an amazing team. While I don’t see myself tied to one place forever, I’m here for now.”

As always, Zubcevik is along for the ride. And she tells college students they should go along with it too.

“Any young person needs to know they can succeed,” Zubcevik said. “Trust in yourself. Meditate with yourself. No matter what you want to do, grab the bull by the horns. You might fall off or break a foot, but you get back on. Stay along for the ride, don’t give up and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a mission or a cause you’re excited about and be happy during the process. That will lift you up on the days you feel like you maybe bit off more than you can chew. Study hard, take the plunge and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.”


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