Wow, so even as I’m sitting down to write this post, my mind is still working to sort through all that we did today. Having to start our day at six in the morning definitely wasn’t fun, but the breakfast buffet more than made up for it. Then, our group boarded the shuttle bus for the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, where we spoke with Dr. Trissa Babrowski. And let me tell you, this woman is nothing short of an inspiration for being a top-notch cardiovascular surgeon, a professor at a world-class university, a researcher who presents her work across the globe, a wife, and a mother of three children. Oh, and in her spare time she’s also worked through a longer reading list that I have this year, and I’m an English major.
Aside from her staggering accomplishments, I was also impressed with Dr. Barowski’s self-awareness and confidence in herself. After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan with a degree in biology and a French minor, she decided to postpone going to medical school and instead spend three years living in Europe where she translated French for a sprinkler company. And she knew it was the right choice for her; otherwise, she would have been too burned out to make it through med school successfully. I think that kind of decision takes a rare degree of confidence, as does persevering in her surgery residency despite doubts that a wife and mother could handle that kind of work. It was empowering to hear her talk about breaking the glass ceiling in the surgical field, where only 7.8% of vascular surgeons are women. She was a strikingly eloquent and down-to-earth speaker all the way through, and by the end, I wanted to stand up and cheer for all her amazing accomplishments.
After Dr. Babrowski’s talk, assistant director of admissions Sara Roser-Jones came to tell us about Pritzker’s medical program and the application process. Even if you’re not interested in applying to medical school, I think that much of what she had to say can be applied to any type of application. One of her main recurring themes was that successful applicants aren’t simply ticking off checkboxes by performing the bare minimum, but are genuinely passionate in what they want to study. Grades are important as well, and Pritzker is a top-ranked school in that regard; however, she also said that she has turned away applicants with 4.0 GPAs if they weren’t able to demonstrate empathy towards patients. Empathy in serving the underprivileged is highly valued at Pritzker; for instance, on top of all their other work, the students manage to run five free health clinics for Chicago residents. And as always, the core message was to simply be yourself… which will hopefully sink in one day. 🙂
From UChicago, we hopped on the bus again and rushed off to UIC School of Public Health. Our first keynote speaker was Dr. Jack Herrmann, a veterinarian who eventually wound up working in public health as a Congressional Science Fellow in the U.S. Senate. (In case you’re also sensing a theme, yes, there is no such thing as an “expected” career path.) He described public health as “assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy,” which includes sanitation, food regulation, and water treatment. The fact that struck me the most during his talk was that declining mortality rates in the past century can be largely attributed to work in public health, such as providing access to immunizations and healthy foods, something which never would have crossed my mind. He also talked about a movement towards “one health,” which integrates human, animal, and ecosystem health in order to solve public health crises. His colleague, Dr. Hershow, went into further detail of an example of a one health project that ended up saving the lives of endangered lions in Serengeti National Park. Even though I walked into the talk thinking that public health would just go over my head, both doctors gave off an air of grandfatherly wisdom that made me genuinely interested in learning about their passion for this type of work.
Next, we heard from Erin Howes ’12, an education major who, after teaching English and citizenship classes in an underrepresented community through the AmeriCorp program, found herself called to work in public health in order to address many of the hardships her students faced. Currently, she works as a care coordinator in a Federally Qualified Health Center, serving mostly people from marginalized communities. She also advised us to just say yes to everything and see where it takes you. I think that kind of open mindedness can help students like me explore new opportunities, so I was glad she shared that with us.
After UIC, we went on a tour of the Ronald McDonald House, a non-profit which houses families while their children are in the hospital. Earlier this year, we held a raffle to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House, and it felt good to know that we were able to help this amazing facility continue its mission. I would recommend that anyone take a tour at one point, just to see the care and thoughtfulness that goes into creating a fun, supportive space for these families.
But wait, there’s more! For dinner, the students were assigned to groups with different alumni. I ended up dining with Dr. Michael Henry, an ophthalmologist, and his wife Megan, who is a social worker helping victims of domestic violence. I was definitely nervous for the dinner, but I quickly learned that I had no reason to be. Megan and Michael were more than happy to tell us about their professions, as well as about their Illinois Wesleyan experience and how they met their freshman year. We also ended up discussing personality types (Michael is scarily accurate when reading people), whether or not the International House is haunted, and other tangents that kept the conversation from becoming too formal or awkward. I was so happy to meet them, and apparently they live close to my hometown, so chances are I might meet them again!
Overall, today was another day filled with incredible speakers who make me want to change my career every time I walk out of a panel. I wish that were a joke, but honestly, I circled “psychiatry” half a dozen times in my UChicago admissions pamphlet, and I Googled the requirements for getting a masters in public health when we came back to our hotel room. Not entirely sure if this is the effect a career trip should be having on me, but I’m loving it. I came out of today feeling so much more at peace with myself after hearing that so many of these successful people took their time to explore multiple paths before discovering their true passion. As an indecisive person with several competing interests, nothing could have been more affirming to hear from these alums than simply: take your time, because it all works out in the end.
Speaking of time, it’s definitely time for me to get some sleep before another day of guest speakers, site visits, panelists, and gasp the big Alumni Social we’ve all been anxiously waiting for. Hope you’ll stick around for Day 3!
–– Rachel McCarthy ’21