In our Alumni Career Spotlight series, you will meet some of our alumni and learn about the important work they are doing to create a healthier nation and world.
Employer: Stanford University Health
Current position: House Staff
Location: Stanford, CA
Degree(s): MPH-MD combined degree, 2023
Why did you choose your major/program?
I began my educational endeavors as a geology major. I was exceptionally fortunate to have had the opportunities I received back then. I interned with NASA and was able to study in China during consecutive summers. I found a love for nature and exploring the depths of this world and others. I was accepted to a graduate program in isotope geochemistry and paleoclimatology and thought I had found my niche. However, I dropped out after only a few months to care for my father.
My father was a police officer in my hometown. He was also a bit of an outlier amongst that typically conservative population. Despite the recent controversies in this country due to the actions of some police officers, my father abhorred violence. He refused to keep firearms in our home and prided himself on only having to draw his gun once in a career spanning two decades. He implored my siblings and me to use our minds rather than fists when engaged in conflict.
He taught us to treat others as we wished to be treated, regardless of racial, cultural, or socioeconomic background. I loved him and was left reeling when I learned that a drunk driver had struck his patrol vehicle. He suffered a depressed skull fracture, a dissected aorta, a shattered pelvis, and numerous other injuries. He survived, but his recovery continues to this day, well over a decade later.
Admittedly, I lost myself for a long time. I knew I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to public service, but I did not know how. After a few years of assisting with my father’s convalescence, I could return to graduate school and complete my degree. I did so, but sadly, I had lost the passion for the earth sciences that I saw in many of my colleagues.
Following a few false starts, including a brief yet unfortunate foray into law school, I thought back to the anesthesiologists and intensivists who cared for my father during his initial hospitalization. I have always admired their steadfast ability to assess and manage the emotional and physical chaos I witnessed as a family member of a critically ill patient.
I decided to test the waters. I wanted to be sure that I was resilient enough to succeed in medicine and that what I searched for could be found in this field. I became a paramedic and worked nights for several years while completing the prerequisites for medical school. I began to make connections between the circuits of the mass spectrometers I had worked on in graduate school and the ventilators I worked with in the emergency department. Happily, I also found myself fascinated by medical research, which seemed relatively imprecise yet undeniably impactful after years of counting the ions I extracted from rocks.
On a more somber note, my work as a paramedic forcibly exposed me to the more shocking inequities of life. My parents raised us in what was likely the most modest house on the block in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. The simple location of our home protected my brother, sister, and me from many of the heartrending things I saw in my time as a paramedic; things that one only really sees during the deceptively quiet hours of the night.
The myth of being able to pull oneself up by their bootstraps became challenging to reconcile with the faces of scared children, freezing in the night, sheltering in a house with cardboard walls, while their mother died of a preventable illness in the next room. It is no wonder that I became interested in public health during this time and first read about John Snow, the social determinants of health, and comparative healthcare systems.
Do you have any research interests?
My dream (which has happily come true!) is to specialize in a combined internal medicine/anesthesiology residency at Stanford University Health and to subspecialize in critical care medicine. I hope to use what I have learned about public health to conduct meaningful clinical research that improves outcomes in the operating theater and the intensive care unit. More than this, I hope to be able to share my varied and sundry experiences with students and residents, as someone should benefit from my meandering story.
Briefly describe your career path.
As previously mentioned, I have traversed a very odd path to my current career. I started as a geologist and isotope geochemist, but eventually entered health care. I worked for some time as a paramedic both in the field and in the emergency department before matriculating in the combined MPH-MD program facilitated by the Fairbanks School of Public Health and the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Describe what an average day for you might be like.
As I enter residency, an average day will likely consist of seeing patients at the Stanford University Hospital, whether on the wards or in the intensive care unit. Because I am in a combined program, I will also be splitting my time in training as an anesthesiologist. I hope to continue to work in public health by researching the effects of the social determinants of health in ICU and OR outcomes.
What advice would you give your college self about pursuing your current career path or industry?
You will face physically, intellectually, and emotionally trying times. They will pass. They may pass like a kidney stone, but they will pass. Learn what you can and trudge on even when it seems hopeless. It may take all you have, but eventually, you will be able to give back to society in a manner that few ever can.
What is a lesson learned at FSPH that you have been able to apply to your career?
It is hard to get through to even one person, at times, let alone an entire population. But it is worth it to try. Patience, empathy, and honest self-reflection go a long way to facilitating the communication necessary for the furtherance of public health initiatives.
What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?
I will be able to apply the knowledge of biostatistics, epidemiology, and public health concepts to my practice of critical care medicine.
What’s next for you?
I am entering a combined residency program in internal medicine and anesthesiology at Stanford, with the ultimate goal of subspecializing in critical care medicine. I hope to use my training in biostatistics and epidemiology to further research into patient outcomes in the OR and ICU. I believe that the principles of population health can be effectively applied to acute care medicine.
What is your favorite IUPUI/FSPH memory?
Dr. Paul Halverson delivered one of the most moving lectures I heard while in the MPH-MD program. He explored the role of the social determinants of health in both public health and medicine. This singular speech gave me a refocused sense of humanity and purpose as well as a desire to do good in this world with the time I have left.