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Sarah Bayer, a student-athlete pursuing a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, is the first medical student to participate on a varsity athletics team at UNC-Chapel Hill. While balancing her athletic obligations and medical studies, Bayer played a role in the Tar Heels women’s soccer team’s historic season as they played in their 26th national championship game in December 2022.

Taking Chances in School and Soccer: Bayer’s Path to UNC

Bayer is originally from Long Island, NY. She attended Loyola Maryland as an undergraduate, where she played Division 1 soccer full-time. Unfortunately, her junior season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was only able to play for three

years. However, she was granted an additional year of eligibility, which prompted her to continue playing soccer in graduate school.

During her undergraduate years, Bayer pursued interdisciplinary majors in speech-language-hearing sciences and biology but decided not to pursue a post-graduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology like many of her classmates, so she picked up biology and added a biomedical physics minor. She felt like these classes and experience combined would tie perfectly into pursuing a doctorate in audiology.

Before she entered her senior season, Bayer began to look at universities that had audiology programs and women’s soccer teams. One of those universities that piqued her interest was UNC. “The UNC soccer program is the most storied women’s college program in history,” said Bayer. She has been familiar with the UNC women’s soccer team since she was little and remembers how many of her teammates from an early age wanted to play for the storied program.

Her own journey at UNC began when she joined the women’s soccer team for the 2022 preseason to see what her potential next steps might be. After completing the preseason, she was asked to continue playing on the team, so she spent the semester practicing and suiting up for games.

“I took a risk, and there were no guarantees. I just felt very strongly that the programs [AuD and soccer] and being here, in general, was worth the risk. I decided to just go for it,” Bayer said. “I was always interested in how the body operated, and I tied together all my interests into one,”

Audiology gave her a window into clinical care, research, and directly related to her passions for health and sports.

More Than a Team: Bayer’s Support System at UNC

To ensure a smooth transition into balancing her student-athlete responsibilities, Bayer, Speech and Hearing Sciences Division Director Dr. Hannah Siburt, Audiology Program Coordinator Dr. Devon Weist, the academic advisor for the soccer team, and the soccer coaches held a meeting to discuss Bayer’s status as a student-athlete and plan ahead for any conflicts that could arise due to the two demanding program schedules.

“The soccer team and the coaches understood the situation of grad school being first and when it came to missing the occasional practice for class, they knew I needed to do it,” Bayer said. The soccer team and coaches appreciated her background and her academic goals.

“Everyone around me has been so supportive – the team, professors, my cohort…my roommates came to every single game and really helped me through the busy semester,” Bayer said. Her audiology professors were very supportive of her athletic endeavors and allowed some flexibility with deadlines, if needed, for her to properly balance soccer and being a first-year graduate student.

A Bright Future for Bayer  

Bayer admits she has a long way to go in figuring out her path as an audiologist but has a few particular interests. “I am open to everything right now. I actually have an interest in vestibular audiology, which ties into soccer, sports, athletics, traumatic brain injuries, and concussion injuries.”

Her biggest takeaway for other students looking to pursue multiple passions during graduate school is to know that it will not be easy. However, Bayer is grateful for taking the risk to pursue both of her passions at UNC. “If you’re willing to put the work in, it will be possible. You should bet on yourself and believe in yourself. No matter what is going to happen, it will work out in the best way possible.”