Before beginning her keynote address at the Second Annual Symposium on Careers in the Health Professions, Dr. Deborah Klein Walker '65 walked through the rows of students gathered for the event. "Hi, I'm Debbie. What are your interests?" she asked, shaking each student's hand. Walker, president of the American Public Health Association, soon learned that her audience was pursuing majors in anthropology, international relations, biochemistry--and more. In turn, her keynote address, "Improving the Health of the Public: Public Health Solutions Are the Answer," illustrated how the students' various majors contribute to public health work, as well as the many routes to a career in the field. Walker, who majored in psychology at Mount Holyoke, ultimately encouraged all the participants to "find what you love to do," a theme that was echoed throughout the symposium.
After a lunch in Kendade Atrium for all attendees, alumnae panelists spoke about their respective careers and the sometimes surprising paths that led them to the work they love. Speakers were Janet Buhlmann '89, instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior postdoctoral fellow at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center; Linda Craib FP'02, a registered nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Connecticut Children's Medical Center; Robin Perlmutter Goldenson '85, staff radiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital; Melanie Anne Iocco '90, staff pharmacist at the Northampton VA Medical Center; and Emily Weber LeBrun '96, resident physician in the obstetrics-gynecology department at Baystate Medical Center.
Goldenson, who described the detours that led to her career in radiology, also urged students to be willing to do some exploring. "The deviations on our path are what make us interesting. So meander--it makes us all better people," Goldenson said.
LeBrun acknowledged doing plenty of meandering on her journey toward becoming a doctor. After dropping out of Mount Holyoke as a sophomore, she spent two years with a group of nuns missioned in Guatemala. When LeBrun returned to MHC to finish her degree, her decision to major in philosophy introduced her to medical ethics, which led her to medical school. Now that she's about to complete an ob/gyn residency, she's headed toward the burgeoning field of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.
The symposium, which was organized by David Gardner, associate director of prehealth and prescience advising, and Maya D'Costa, associate director of on-campus programs for the Alumnae Association, was made possible by a long-term president's grant from the Mellon Foundation. So far this academic year, that grant also has funded panels on careers in nursing and veterinary science. According to Gardner, students are especially eager to hear first-hand the experiences of alumnae who have grappled with making decisions about pursuing graduate school and careers.
Elizabeth Merwin '09 said she was particularly drawn to the symposium for the chance to hear Walker speak. She credits Mount Holyoke with inspiring an interest in neuroscience and cultural health science. "Reading Dr. Paul Farmer's Mountains Beyond Mountains for the Common Reading also deepened my interest in doing public health and policy work on a global level," she added. Ukwori Onuma '09, likewise, was drawn to the symposium for the chance to meet with alumnae working in the health professions. She's considering medical school but also wants to combine delivering health care with influencing health care policy. "The symposium showed the many options we have," Onuma said.