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Miller a pioneer for women at Colgate

Dr. Merrill Miller stepped into new territory for women in the medical profession in 1981 when she was hired to be Colgate's team physician.

Dr. Merrill Miller stepped into new territory for women in the medical profession in 1981 when she was hired to be Colgate's team physician.
At the time, no other head physician in NCAA Division I was a woman. The news was not a shock to Miller — because she was used to it. 
In medical school, the majority of the students were men. Before Colgate, Miller worked a decade in the profession, and encountered few female doctors.
"It was not surprising to me," Miller said. "I grew up in a time when there were very few women in medicine. When I went to medical school, there were only five women in my class of 105."
Miller is a native of Kew Gardens, a neighborhood in New York City. She is a 1967 graduate of Cornell University. She completed her medical training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Buffalo, and the SUNY-Health Science Center in Syracuse.

When Miller joined Colgate, she became the doctor for every athletic program while serving as university physician and director of student health services. She pursued the role with passion and enthusiasm, and with a love for the energy found on a college campus. 

As student-athletes towered over her, she paid no heed to the limited role that women played in college sport medicine. 

Merrill Miller "Several people who interviewed me here asked me what's it going to be like taking care of these big football and basketball players," she said. "My answer was, 'I will ask them to sit down.' I never saw it as an issue." 

Coeducation had been in place at the University for a decade when Miller arrived, but much still had to be done before women gained equality.
As she handled her job with grace and professionalism, Miller helped set the foundation for the success of women's athletics.
She also watched Colgate Athletics transform into a landscape where women stand on equal ground with their male counterparts. Today, 13 of the 25 varsity sports at Colgate are women's programs, and women have achieved some of the most memorable moments in Raider history.
Women's hockey, which today is ranked No. 1 in an ECAC preseason poll and sixth nationally, was still a club sport when Miller was hired. In the years before becoming a varsity sport, women used figure skates and borrowed equipment from the men's team.
For her contributions to Colgate Athletics, Miller was one of five women honored this semester as Trailblazers of Distinction. The recognition comes as Colgate celebrates 50 years of women's sports at the varsity level. 
"To me, it has always been both a privilege and honor to take care of people," Miller said. "I am extremely grateful to be recognized for that."
Miller said others deserve credit for her recognition as a trailblazer. 
"There are so many wonderful colleagues here, in my office, on campus, in athletics, where I have spent a lot of time," said Miller. "They are the ones who are equally deserving and should be recognized for the wonderful care and attention they provide not only for our students, but for helping to guide faculty and staff, and for the connections with parents."
Miller was working at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse when she applied for the Colgate job. Before seeking the role, she was familiar with Colgate from her many trips to Hamilton to treat patients in the area. She had also attended Colgate games.
Headshots of the Health Center staff.
The University welcomed its first class of female students in 1970. From the moment women arrived on campus, they started playing club sports. By the 1973-74 season, the first women's varsity teams were launched in basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, swim and dive, tennis, and volleyball. 
The athletic opportunities gradually increased for women, but it was clear during the early years of Miller's Colgate tenure that more needed to be done.
When speaking about women's athletics from those days, Miller points to former Colgate Head Volleyball Coach Janet Little, who was also a part-time athletic trainer and an assistant coach for other teams.   Miller said women in the 80s had to do everything they could to keep their teams going, even if it meant coaching multiple teams or helping to wash uniforms. Success in competition was also scant, at least for some women's programs.
"I remember the days of women's ice hockey playing hard but losing, sometimes by double digits, and now they are nationally acclaimed and play in a first-class arena," Miller said. "Like many others, I cheered for them just as hard in the early years as in their current championship years."
Now in her 42nd year on the job, Miller said she has seen Colgate evolve to become a leading University with an athletic program that competes on a national level. 
And like her early years at Colgate, the job continues to thrill her. 
"There is nothing like the exuberance of a college campus," she said. "You have enthusiastic, sharp, smart, talented young people and you have great wisdom and skill from staff and faculty.

"I smile when I think of each and every one of them and the thousands of other people who I have been able to watch during their time here, particularly in sports because I've spent a lot of time with them. The things that our students do are extraordinary."