Tomorrow I'm going to put on a funny robe, hood and ridiculous cap. I am going to walk to the podium to receive my third, and hopefully final, graduate degree: a Masters of Public Health (MPH).
Believe me, I've heard all the jokes, all the people laughing, seen the startled looks and had to deal with the inevitable, "You must be really smart..." statement that is so hard to answer. I know...three graduate degrees? Overkill, no? Well, as it turns out, no. There is some reason to my madness. In an attempt to demonstrate this, I give you a snapshot of my academic history.
Degree #1: Masters of Science
I decided to do an MS degree when I was a senior in college. I didn't know whether I wanted to go to graduate school or medical school, and a professor kindly offered me a spot in his lab. The school paid me to go to school, so I figured it was a pretty good deal. I was working, unsurprisingly, in the field of immunology. I learned many things during this program. One of the things I learned was that most immunologists work with mice or rats. I didn't think this would be a problem, but I started having recurring nightmares about mice. Clearly I wasn't cut out for that field.
Degree #2: PhD
During my MS program, I decided to continue with graduate school instead of going to med school. I can't stand most medical students, and I didn't want to wrack up a quarter million in debt. I applied to several schools, and was impressed with the great culture at the University of Vermont. I was also impressed by the quality of research performed by the woman for whom I ended up working. I was accepted into bigger, more prestigious programs, but I loved what I saw in Vermont, so there I went. It was only towards the end of my PhD program that my baby lupus grew up into monster teenage lupus. My boss did absolutely everything in her power to support me and help me, and I will forever be grateful to her. She was, essentially, my Vermont mom.
During my PhD I did get really sick, and started interacting with other lupus patients. Unfortunately, I watched helplessly as one woman, who was my age and who had kids, died. I felt that the death could've been adverted, and I decided I was going to learn how to advert such deaths. I explained my goals to my boss, who recommended that I do...
Degree #3: MPH
In my MS and PhD programs I learned why and how people get sick. I also learned that this information is totally useless unless patients are given clear, honest and easy to understand information. The Masters of Public Health at Johns Hopkins is the #1 MPH program in the world. It is truly an amazing experience. I've shaken the hand of the man responsible for the eradication of smallpox. I've listened to a talk given by the woman who is responsible for getting airbags put in cars. I have met truly amazing professors and students. We come from every possible culture and country, but we all share one goal: to save lives. Lots of lives. All 250 students who will walk tomorrow want to make the world a better place. Idealistic? Yes. But maybe in these days of cynicism a little idealism is not such a bad thing. Now all we have to do is find jobs...
So there you have it: 9 years of graduate school. Ten letters after my name if you count my undergraduate degree. But every step was planned, and I hope that it will allow me to help patients who are not as fortunate as I have been. It has been worth it.