Allison Kessler Vear ’00, MD, MSc to receive 2019 Alumni Award

The New Canaan Country School Alumni Council will present the 2019 Alumni Award to Allison Kessler Vear ’00. Allison will return to campus on May 17 to accept the honor and to share with students, alumni and guests her work as a top physical rehabilitation physician. This event kicks off Alumni Weekend 2019.

The Alumni Award is presented each year to honor an alumna or alumnus who best embodies the statement from the school’s mission, “New Canaan Country School inspires students to be lifelong learners with the courage and confidence to make a positive contribution to the world.”

Allison is currently an attending physician at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a leading rehabilitation hospital in Chicago, where she specializes in spinal cord injury medicine. She is also an Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. In August of 2018 she took over the Teamwork and Leadership Thread for the Feinberg Medical School curriculum.

“Allison has accomplished so much at such a young age and is an exemplary role model for our students,” said Head of School Aaron Cooper. “She embodies our mission skills of curiosity, teamwork, time management and, of course, resilience. We very much look forward to welcoming Allison back to campus.”

At the age of 15 while at Choate Rosemary Hall, Allison suffered a skiing accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. When Allison, a talented student-athlete, returned to Choate in a wheelchair, she was resolved to stay active and not sit on the sidelines. She became the coxswain for the women’s varsity crew team. Allison later attended Harvard -  where she continued as a cox on the crew team - and earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, studying biomedicine and society. She went on to medical school at Northwestern University to become a physiatrist, a physician who practices physical medicine and rehabilitation. While in Chicago, she met her husband Ben Vear on a club rowing team, and they are now the proud parents of two-year-old daughter, Brooke.

Allison uses her life experience on a daily basis as a way to connect and listen to her patients. “I want them to know I hear them. I know it isn’t easy, and it will be an ongoing struggle. Being a confident, good doctor is a way to lead them.”

She relates physiatry to her time as a coxswain.

“Good care requires a great team and my job is to be a team leader and steer the boat. It takes all of us to cross the finish line.”

As a professor, Allison is excited about taking on a role that will challenge her and help her become a leader in her field.

“In academic medicine, I have to keep up-to-date on recent advancements and am constantly learning and growing,” she says.  

The daughter of two physicians and the youngest of four children, Allison attended Country School from Kindergarten through Grade 8. She still has a wooden lacrosse stick from her Upper School days and keeps it as a reminder of the valuable lessons she learned.

“Everyone was getting the new titanium sticks at the time, but our coach, Ms. Hulme, believed that you need simple tools to become good at fundamental skills. I still believe that,” she added.

Allison also fondly recalls and now values the time she spent in woodshop. “I wasn’t so good at art, but I was good at working with my hands and taking my time building things. As a rehab doctor, I work with my hands all day with my patients.”
It was at Country School, Allison says, that she learned the power of community early on.

“I was always encouraged to think about how I could contribute to my school community. How could I build it up and make it a better place? I’ve brought that mindset to every community I’ve been a part of since.”

All are invited to join the Country School community on Friday, May 17, 10:30 a.m., in the NCCS auditorium to hear more about Allison’s experiences and achievements.