Dr. Snow Daws , an orthopedic surgeon in the North Carolina Triad specializing in feet and ankles, has spent her life in places dominated by men.
Growing up with five brothers was probably the best possible preparation for her improbable life.
It didn’t seem unusual to Daws when she became the only girl on her high school football team. She’s always been athletic (she was a soccer standout at High Point Central in High Point, North Carolina), so when she heard the school’s football team needed a kicker, she didn’t hesitate to try out.
“We lost a game because of our first kicker,” Coach Steve Edwards recalled. “We put the word out everywhere – to all the sports teams, in PE classes. We knew of Snow because her older brother, Anthony, had been our kicker. And, we were desperate.”
He knew the team’s luck was changing when he saw Daws try out: “She’s a little, bitty thing, and she crushed it. I mean, 20 (goals) in a row. We said: You’re hired.”
It wasn’t just a fluke. She really was that good. She remained the team’s varsity kicker throughout high school. “I kicked a field goal in the state semi-finals against Shelby High that led our team to the state finals,” she said.
Her coach said, “She was money every single time.”
‘There’s got to be better care’
Daws didn’t always dream of becoming a surgeon. After getting her undergraduate degree from Duke University (where she went on a soccer scholarship), she worked for a physical therapy office in Lake Tahoe and shadowed an orthopedic surgeon.
It was familiar AstroTurf. “Because I was an athlete, I’d had orthopedic surgeries,” she said.
But here’s the kicker. “The defining moment for me in becoming a doctor happened because of my niece,” Daws said. “She has developmental delays caused by (neurological disorder) Rett syndrome, and my brother and sister-in-law had some terrible experiences with doctors. I thought: There’s got to be better care for people.”
“My niece doesn’t need an orthopedist, but her experience inspired me,” she said. “As a doctor, I try to listen, show compassion and follow through. I want to be relatable.”
Patients do relate to Daws. “Some patients have told me they sought me out because I’m a woman,” she said. But her male patients also appreciate her easy way around them – even though they they’d never guess she’s a former football star.
She never looked the part, her coach said. She’d wear a T-shirt and shorts to practice, while the rest of the team suited up in pads. “We told her she had to start wearing all that gear, and she did,” he said. “When we’d travel to away games, the other team would have to open the girls’ locker room just for Snow. If they couldn’t accommodate us, she’d go into the boys’ locker room by herself while a couple of her teammates stood guard outside.” (Edwards recalled her being on the homecoming court every year in high school. She’d change from her football uniform into a dress during halftime and then change back for the second half.)
When Daws was training to become a doctor, she found herself back in familiar territory. She was the only woman in her residency class of five. She’s also the lone woman in the group of doctors she practices with. For many women, that could be a lonely place. But it’s natural for Daws, a self-described tomboy.
Daws said she’s comfortable being “one of the guys.” So, going into a branch of medicine where women are rare – roughly 14 percent of orthopedic surgeons are female – wasn’t a stretch. Of all the medical subspecialties, orthopedic surgery has the fewest women.
Patients are often surprised to discover Daws is a woman. She’s mistaken for a nurse almost daily – and always handles the confusion with good humor.
And for those wondering about her first name, the backstory in her own words: “One of the founders of High Point was Captain William Henry Snow, III and he is my great-great-great-great grandfather. My mom’s name is Snow, and so is my daughter’s.”
‘A little bit of everything’
Daws focuses much of her practice on foot and ankle issues at Novant Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine – Kernersville. “I love the variety of patients and types of pathology that I get to see,” she said. “Within foot and ankle, there is a little bit of everything – total joint replacement, foot reconstruction, pediatrics, sports surgery, deformity correction, just to name a few. Having so much variety makes every case interesting and different, which I love.
“I also have found that having a foot and ankle problem can be very debilitating to patients because we all depend on our feet so much for normal function and activity. Being able to help patients with their foot and ankle problems is enormously rewarding for me."
Daws didn’t know in high school how successful she’d be with her hands and a scalpel. But her coach said she was “a legend” with her kicking foot. “She could pop the ball way up in the air and make it land anywhere we told her,” he said. “By her second year, she started kicking us off. She was just a fierce competitor and a mental beast.”
Being focused, determined and driven to excel comes in handy in the OR as well as on the playing field.
These days, Daws has traded playing soccer for driving her kids – a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son – to their soccer games.
Though she’s no longer on the playing field, today, Daws is very much at home in the field of medicine. “I love my job,” she said. “I love helping patients go from a place of pain and poor function to a place where they’re more functional with less pain.”
When joint pain affects your mobility, it can affect every area of your life. But you don’t have to suffer through it. If you’re struggling with a joint injury or chronic condition like arthritis, Novant Health joint experts can help you regain strength and flexibility.