Inside SFS

Anna Eley Cantrell ’94

The San Francisco School student is someone whose intellectual, imaginative, and humanitarian promise is nurtured at an early age. Anna (Eley) Cantrell ’94 is an alumna who exemplifies the SFS graduate.

Throughout her eleven years at SFS, she was immersed in music, art, theater, and the outdoors. “[SFS] changed my world. My fondest childhood memories were as an SFS student, on overnight trips to Calaveras and Yosemite.” Anna said. She became deeply enamored with theater during an 8th grade “Romeo and Juliet” production. She pursued acting while at Lick-Wilmerding High School, and, intending to be a Shakespearean actress, she studied it formally at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.

On the weekends, Anna escaped the urban drama of Los Angeles in the Outdoor Adventures program, learning and teaching leadership skills. “I felt like a kid again, hiking with my best buddies,” she says. She became a wilderness first responder and guide, learning the importance of skills, knowledge, preparation, and self-reliance. 

After college, Anna volunteered with Bay Area non-profit organizations that combined her interests and altruism, such as rock-climbing for the empowerment of women or rafting with HIV/AIDS patients. Back at SFS, she directing theater alongside SFS Alum Parent Wendy Parkman and sewed costumes for “A Winter’s Tale” and “As You Like It.” She left the City once more to work as an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School, and, soon afterward, she was teaching at the Wilderness Medicine Institute, certifying to be an EMT and wilderness paramedic, and serving on the ski patrol at Big Sky in Montana. (She also coordinated Montana Shakespeare in the Parks tours).

These experiences taught her more than first aid – she learned about disaster prevention and what to do if you get into trouble. In contemplating her future, Anna realized that her inquisitive personality was driving her to the science of medicine, not merely its application. Her journey led her to Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, UC Davis for her General Surgery residency, and her current general and trauma surgery practice in Placerville, CA.

Reflecting on her “convoluted pathway to medicine,” Anna feels that her work  in medicine was a result of her education at SFS. “My time at SFS was so influential. Eleven of my twenty-three years of formal education were spent at SFS. I am inquisitive, and I love to learn,” she says. 

I’ve always been searching for ways to stimulate my mind – like in theater, or medicine. School was never a chore. It was always exciting, and there were always challenging activities that were always interactive.” She continues to embrace challenges with eagerness and the wisdom of her experiences, gained from school, the stage, and the wilderness. These challenges include a busy practice in the midst of wildfires and a pandemic as well as a busy home life with her urologist husband and two young children.

“I try to recreate the SFS preschool in my backyard for my two young daughters,” Anna says laughing. From providing Montessori manipulatives and making hurry up cake, she says that her time at SFS has informed her own parenting. “But it’s not the same. I wish they could go there!”

Posted October 10, 2020