First-Year Medical Student Learning About Ultrasounds in Class Diagnoses Her Own Health Concern

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jan 03, 2024

As a first-year medical student, Sally Rohan was learning how to use an ultrasound machine when she found something quite concerning. 

Sally noticed that her thyroid didn’t quite look like the example they had studied in class. But the journey to find out exactly what was wrong was long and full of complications. 

Who Is Sally Rohan?

Sally Rohan’s story has spread around the internet and the world, but before she went viral, Sally was just a young medical student at the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine in Virginia


At 25 years old, she was in her first year of med school, ready and excited for what this challenging but exciting course might bring. 

Learning to Use the Ultrasound Machine

Sally explained what happened that first day of learning to use the ultrasound machine: “We practice by getting on the beds and doing it to each other in little groups, so I got on the bed and my friend then held up the probe, and we were looking at my thyroid.”

Sally Rohan seeing her thyroid through an ultrasound machine

Source: @sallyvonrohan/Instagram

And when her thyroid appeared on the screen, she remembers saying, “What’s going on? The tissue doesn’t look the way that it looked in the videos that we watched before this class.”

Sally Immediately Asked for Help

Just starting her medical education, Sally asked her Student Health center to take a look at her thyroid and see if it was, in fact, not quite right. 

Doctor assessing a patient’s thyroid

Source: Freepik

They told Sally that she should go see her doctor; however, as Sally was about to turn 26 and be removed from her parents health insurance plan, she needed to get her paperwork in order before seeing a specialist. 

Waiting for Insurance

Sally’s doctor in California told her that she should wait until she had insurance before getting diagnostic imaging and a full assessment as the process was quite expensive without it. 

Sally Rohan leaning against a bridge and smiling

Source: @sallyvonrohan/Instagram

While she waited for her insurance to come through, Sally became completely engulfed in her school work. She told herself that thyroid cancer “is not that bad,” and more or less put it out of her mind. 

Why Wasn’t a Med Student Worried About Cancer?

It’s important to understand that while cancer is undoubtedly terrifying, Sally wasn’t that nervous about thyroid cancer specifically because of its survival rates. 

American Cancer Society logo in blue and white

Source: American Cancer Society

According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for what they call papillary thyroid cancer is an amazing 99%, which Sally knew as a med student. 


Sally Shouldn’t Have Waited as Long as She Did

It took quite a long time for Sally’s insurance to come through, and she said in a recent interview, “I don’t think (my doctor) meant (for me to) wait a whole year, which is what I ended up doing.”

Technician preparing an ultrasound machine

Source: UniversalDiagnosticSolutions

Finally, after having the consultation and digital imaging conducted on her thyroid, Sally got the call no one wants to get.


Nodules Found on Sally’s Thyroid

Sally explained, “The radiologist had looked at my ultrasound and said, ‘she has several nodules in her thyroid and it looks like cancer, and it looks like the cancer has metastasized bilaterally to her cervical lymph nodes.”

Illustration of the thyroid glands in a human body

Source: Shutterstock

But Sally reported that she still wasn’t scared; “Even in that moment, I was like, ‘OK, it’s thyroid cancer, people don’t usually die from that. But I didn’t really think, ‘what if it moves around? Like, what if it spread elsewhere?’” 


Sally Was Almost Immediately Taken in for Surgery

Even though Sally wasn’t scared, her doctor informed her that she needed to remove the infected thyroid as soon as possible to ensure the cancer didn’t spread. 

Sally Rohan in a hospital bed before surgery

Source: @sallyvonrohan/Instagram

The surgery went well, but Sally reported, “When they were doing the lateral neck dissection to get the cancer out of my lymph nodes, they found more than they thought they would, which was unexpected.”


Hoping for the Best

Since the surgery, Sally’s doctors are still watching her closely; she is not completely free of cancer yet, but they hope she will be soon. 

Sally Rohan taking a selfie in a bathroom mirror

Source: @sallyvonrohan/Instagram

Sally said, “I don’t think anyone wants to get my hopes up,” but she still feels positive about her chances of beating the disease quickly. 


Sally Is Still Living a Full and Beautiful Life

Even with this surprising diagnosis and surgery, Sally isn’t letting cancer bring her down. 

Screenshot of Sally Rohan’s Instagram feed

Source: @sallyvonrohan/Instagram

Besides traveling when she can, Sally has dedicated all of her time, energy, and effort, into becoming the best possible doctor she can be. 


This Experience Will Make Sally a Better Doctor

As well, Sally believes that this experience will eventually make her a better physician. 

Sally Rohan smiling in a garden

Source: @sallyvonrohan/Instagram

She said, “I think it’ll give me a lot more empathy. “I think it’s making me a more empathetic person in general, but also as a future physician, definitely.”