Colleen Barry loved going to the ocean as a kid, and she nurtured that affection through college.
As she began the process of selecting a career, she followed time-tested advice – “choose a job doing something you already love.”
That’s how dolphins and whales ended up on her curriculum vitae.
In a deserted part of Western Australia, there’s a bay where dolphins and 8- to 10-foot tiger sharks swim in a combination of salt and fresh water – water so clear “you can actually see the dolphins below the surface. But it’s not really a place where you get into the water.”
Barry, a junior at Georgetown University at the time, documented their behavior. “My watch beeped every minute, and I’d write down what the dolphins were doing.”
Do they do a lot of different things?
“Not a lot,” she says, laughing. “Five or six, like traveling, playing, eating and I’m not sure what they’re doing.”
Whales came next. She traveled to the San Juan Islands in Washington state to document sounds made by killer whales. Barry listened for whistles and enjoyed the beauty of the assignment.
But soon after that, she realized that the lure of the ocean was not pulling her into a career. There was an undertow tugging her in another direction.
“Marine research is a pretty isolating field,” she says. “You don’t talk to people much, and while animal behavior is interesting, it’s not a field where you contribute that much to helping people.”
Unsure of her next step, Barry, a Colorado Springs native and daughter of parents with careers in health care, took a technician job at a clinic in Breckenridge. For six months, she satisfied a long-held desire to be a ski bum for a season.
Working in a busy ski area clinic was far from isolating, and Barry found that it fit her personality.
She went to Boston for her post-baccalaureate work, where she met Brad Barton, a fellow Colorado Springs native.
They started at CU School of Medicine simultaneously and will marry in April. They couple matched to Dartmouth College - Hitchcock Medical Center; she’ll specialize in pediatrics, he in anesthesiology.
She chose pediatrics because she found it both challenging and rewarding.
“The [patient’s] family really challenges you to be the best you can be,” she says. “And the specialty is so patient-centered - they really understand that it’s about the needs of the patients. For example, when someone goes under anesthesia, they put flavored chap-stick on the mask. It’s a superficial example, but it’s just one sign that patients’ needs come first. “
She has no regrets about leaving the sea behind.
“For me, it’s a hobby that doesn’t have to be a career,” says Barry, 29. “Working with kids and being a doctor is a good combination for me. I can visit the ocean on vacation, and that will be fine.”