“English and Medicine, This Student Reflects on Doing Both”

Congratulations to one of our very own, Courtney Potteiger, who has won the J.J. Quinn Award with the following essay.


A Formula for Greatness: English and Medicine

I vividly remember clutching my tattered paperback of Tale of Two Cities on the floor of my parents’ bathroom. Upon reading Sidney Carton’s last words, intense emotion overcame me and I ran, embarrassed, to their bathroom only to crumple and cry over the beautiful horror of Carton’s sacrifice. That was nearly eight years ago. Now, this semester, I find myself dazedly wandering into the offices of my former, undergraduate English professors.

“I cannot believe that I am completing my very last English course. What am I going to do?” I always ask. Dr. Rebecca Beal says that I am now at a time when I will become my own teacher, directing and tailoring my literature studies throughout the rest of my life.

“I hope I will have time,” I tell her. “I will be so busy in medical school.”

“It will come back to you,” she reassures me. “You will find it again.”

I always knew that I wanted to be a physician. No other career that I tried on seemed to fit me as properly or to suit me as comfortably as medicine. However, my deep interest in English also seemed to tear me away from that perfect fit. I was taught that solely hard science populated the world of doctoring, not symbolism and theme. Consequently, during my first two years at The University of Scranton, I valiantly attempted to separate myself from my love of Victorian literature. The resulting restlessness increased my reluctance to invest myself fully within my studies. During my junior year, I stumbled into a Victorian literature tutorial with Dr. Ellen Casey. We explored the depths of Austen, the Brontës, and other literary giants. Suddenly, I felt like me again. Thus, I chose to pursue an English minor and dove back into the realm of literature.

I realize now that English and medicine are not mutually exclusive disciplines. Rather, they blend beautifully together to constitute a great physician. Pragmatically, studying English improves verbal skills and enhances one’s ability to effectively communicate with another. Medicine, although based in biological sciences, reaches its fullest potential through communication with one’s patients. Therefore, a respectable physician must learn to utilize and to understand a patient’s language.

Comprehending words only scratches the surface of the magnitude of English studies. English plunges its audiences into foreign worlds. Literally, setting can drive a reader into the dark depths of the mediaeval period. However, the worlds of which I am discussing are those of others’ lives. Because I have only my life to experience, the lives of other people will undoubtedly feel foreign to me. English exposes one to new ways of thought, and presents situations that forces audiences to think critically about circumstances, decisions, and feelings that they have never encountered firsthand. Herein lies the singularity of English.

I, as a future physician, can sympathize with, but can rarely know a patient’s experiences. Regardless, it is my duty to try my best. Studying English continuously reveals not only unfamiliar lives, but also innovative methods of assessment. The search for context clues transfers over to the realm of medicine when assessing patients’ bodily and economic symptoms in order to successfully treat their ailment. Great physicians all invoke an English dimension when practicing, which is a quality I hope to acquire.

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