Anything can happen with an English degree


On Nov. 20, in the Chapman Conference Room, three PC alumni gave their insights on how having a background in English has helped them with their careers in medicine and healthcare. Known as the [email protected] forum, this forum provides the students at PC who might be interested in what an English degree can do that isn’t teaching (I’m thinking of the question that circulates around the dinner table at Thanksgiving—“Oh, you’re an English major, do you want to teach?”). For students who may not see themselves as teachers (like me), the [email protected] forum this year provided an interesting blend of English and healthcare, with discussion ranging from pain medicine to journalism, from medical school to rock n’ roll.

The speakers were Ryan Nobles ’04, an anesthesiologist and assistant professor of anesthesia and perioperative medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina; Ansley Stewart ’07, who recently completed her master’s program in Health and Medical Journalism at the University of Georgia; and Christina Randall ’06, a physician assistant at Southeastern Neurosurgical and Spine Institute of the Greenville Health System.

After Dr. Justin Brent introduced the speakers, Nobles spoke first, describing the balance he had achieved at PC between running cross-country, being a member of Theta Chi, and pursuing his academic goals. Crediting Dr. Dean Thompson with his decision to become an English major, Nobles said that being an English major has helped him tremendously in his career. Not only did the major make him stand out amongst the countless biology and chemistry majors pursuing medical school, but the critical thinking skills he developed during his English classes at PC have helped him to diagnose his patients by listening for the “themes” within their stories.

Next, Randall described her path into becoming a physician assistant, beginning the program which started just two weeks after graduation. Being a mother, Randall greatly valued the flexibility that comes along with being a physician assistant, as she can choose which field she wants to work in if she ever wants or needs to, including even cardiology, a field she once “swore [she] would never do.”

Randall then discussed how English played a role in her career, mentioning the necessary ability to explain clearly a patient’s medical history to a physician who has not yet had this patient before. She also emphasized good spelling and grammar, as a lot of people in the field “have horrific grammar and spelling.” “I can’t tell you how many times diarrhea has been misspelled,” Randall said.

Clear communication was a key component of Stewart’s talk during the forum. Passionate about writing, but never really considering herself “a science person,” Stewart was highly interested in journalism, the treatment for addiction and depression, and music. Wanting to understand addiction from the music side led Stewart to pursue graduate school at UGA where she was inspired to write what she was passionate about.

Saying that there is no reason to be afraid of science, Stewart said, “Science has stories that also need to be told. For the people who don’t have access [to these stories], English majors can tell their stories and translate [the science] for them.”

After each of the speakers gave their initial insights, they opened the floor to questions from the students and faculty and discussed a variety of topics. Nobles and Randall stressed the value of research, as it is one of the driving forces in the medical field now. All three talked about the controversy with healthcare and insurance, with mention of the possible lack of honesty in journalistic articles on this issue. The forum ended with a discussion on the ability to handle failure, which led to inspiration to continue to do what one loves. “I feared that if I failed, I can’t get to the next step,” Nobles said. “But even if you fail, you can get to that place. [Failure] will set you back, but don’t get discouraged.”

Stewart followed by saying, “Give yourself that grace and time to fail and to do well.”

“Let’s have an Oprah Winfrey moment,” Stewart said, laughing. “Anything can happen.”

Indeed, as the [email protected] forum has shown throughout the years, anything can happen with an English degree. One doesn’t need to become a teacher if that isn’t the right path for that person, but an English degree opens possibilities for a person to individualize and make perfect whatever career path one chooses.