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From Liberal Arts to Medicine

Alumni Physicians Connect with Students Through Skype Panel

alumni health care panelDate published: Feb. 27, 2020

Back in October, five University of Dallas alumni physicians held a Skype Question & Answer panel for UD undergraduates aspiring to enter health care professions. Hosted by the Biology Department, the panel provided the opportunity for current students who plan to work in health care to see how other UD graduates have used their liberal arts education to pursue such a path. 

Arranged by Mark Villanueva, M.D., BS ’03, in conjunction with Associate Professor and Chair of Biology William Cody, the panelists included Villanueva, Larry Mitnaul, M.D., M.P.H., BA ’03, Gwyneth (Weigel) Spaeder, M.D., BA ’00, Lauren (Harkins) Sadovsky, D.O., BA ’09, and John Stirton, M.D., BA ’02 MBA ’03. Together, they represented internal medicine, pediatrics, child and adolescent psychiatry, and orthopedic surgery.

Even though these alumni all share UD as their alma mater, they have all taken different approaches to entering the health care profession. Some followed the usual route as biology majors, while others like Sadovsky and Spaeder majored in the humanities (theology and politics, respectively). 

bio student“We all had different paths to becoming physicians and even have different day-to-day practices, but the one common thread was our Catholic liberal arts education that wove through our journeys,” said Villanueva, who works as a clinical assistant professor at Banner University of Arizona - Phoenix and focuses on physician wellness and burnout. “For me, it is that very foundation and education that help us treat our patients and their families. It helps us understand the human condition, empathize with its pain and suffering, share in its joy and gifts and ultimately treat the human spirit.” 

The students who attended noted that seeing the different ways in which alumni approached their careers was inspiring as well as fitting for UD’s model of education.

“Sometimes we have a dream occupation and think that there is only one way of achieving that,” said Faith Starnes, a sophomore who hopes to become a pediatric physical therapist. “However, during this panel, I saw that there are always multiple paths to success. One thing that stood out to me was the variety of majors these UD alumni graduated with, but that they all ended up with health care jobs. One misconception I think many undergrads have is that they have to major in biology to be able to go on to become successful health care professionals. Throughout this panel, I saw that many graduate schools look for diverse people and here at UD, through taking the Core, we have the opportunity to be those diverse people.” 

Dr. CodyGrace DiMarco, a senior biology major graduating this May who plans to attend medical school after taking a gap year to work as a scribe, also expressed how the UD Core Curriculum makes students distinctive: “The special thing about UD is that the Core gives students the opportunity to take many classes outside of their major. The variety of majors of the health care professionals on the panel showed the desire of these professionals for a well-rounded education. It stood out to me that these professionals wanted to be educated in other subjects, not just under the constraints of a science major.” 

“I think it is important for students to know that they do not have to follow the ‘normal’ paths of their desired career choice,” continued DiMarco. “Students are able to study other subjects like theology, history or English and still feel drawn to the health care professions. I think the panel really embodied the spirit of UD: thinking outside the constraints of a major and loving what you do.”

Trinity Ngo, another student attendee, urged her fellow undergraduates to take advantage of these opportunities to connect with alumni. “I highly encourage students, especially those pursuing health care professions, to attend the panels that the Biology Department has to offer, as the panelists do an incredible job of addressing and clarifying many topics that may be important toward future applications or career decisions,” she said. A sophomore herself, Ngo plans to attend medical school after graduation.

bio studentsStarnes shared the same sentiment: “It’s always nice for us undergraduate students to attend an event like this because we often get caught up in all the work we have to do, but bringing in people like this is a continual reassurance that what we are doing now will be worth it in the end.” 

On March 5, join Dean Stuart Flynn, M.D., Director of Preparation for Practice Course and Psych Immersion Erin Nelson, Psy.D., and Director for Admissions and Enrollment Operations Carlos Tapia from the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine. They will provide students with information on their program and discuss preparing for and applying to medical school. Learn more.