Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Thinking Beyond the MD

An arts and sciences degree offers unique value in the healthcare field, alumni say

The pre-med degree isn’t the only path to med school or a rewarding career in the healthcare field. In fact, an arts and sciences degree is increasingly being seen as an asset in the fast-changing healthcare landscape.

That was the message that five healthcare professionals — three M.D.s, a researcher and a healthcare consultant — and Assistant Dean Mark Sheldon delivered to about 50 Northwestern undergraduates on Oct. 6 at Parkes Hall.

Organized by the Weinberg Student-Alumni Engagement Program, the 90-minute panel “Exploring Healthcare Careers: Thinking Beyond the MD” illustrated how the skills gained in arts and sciences classes translate into today’s healthcare industry.

On the value of an arts and sciences education in healthcare:

“The problems in medicine now are so huge that we need broad-based thinkers to attack problems with different approaches. And that’s where the liberal arts education comes in and proves to be of immense value.” — Paul Checchia, a 1989 English graduate from Weinberg, is the medical director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston as well as a professor of pediatrics at Baylor University.

“In healthcare, disciplines were very siloed — doctors, administrators and others typically doing their own things. Today, there’s growing recognition that complementary skill sets and broad bases of knowledge are critical to problem-solving, particularly as the industry transforms from a volume-based system to a value-based system.” — Brad Helfand, a 2001 political science and sociology alum who now serves as the associate vice president at Sg2, a healthcare consulting firm based in Skokie, Ill.

“During my undergraduate career, right as I was trying to decide if a career in medicine was for me, someone told me that college is about learning how to think, developing intellectually and exploring other subjects. … Making that decision to develop my intellectual strengths paid off times 10 in med school and times 100 in other parts of my life. It’s helped me become a well-tempered person and a professional who can share and edit a story.” — Christine Todd, an English language and literature graduate who now serves as associate professor and director of Hospitalist Services at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

“I use my history degree every day because modern healthcare is about solving problems, writing well and understanding how we got to where we are.” — Barbara Byrne earned a history degree from Weinberg College in 1989, later following that with an M.D. from Northwestern in 1993 and an MBA (also from Northwestern) in 2002. She is the vice president and CIO of Edward Health Services in Naperville, Ill.

On professional healthcare opportunities beyond the MD:

“If one’s particular interest in medicine is to be of help to other individuals, then there are professionals throughout the healthcare field who have these conversations with people, such as social workers chaplains and nurses. It’s not solely the M.D.” — Assistant Dean Mark Sheldon, a distinguished senior lecturer in philosophy who has been an ethics consultant to hospitals for the last three decades.

“Pre-med is a rather direct path. You go to med school and then become a doctor. But there are other paths you can pursue to enter the healthcare industry. It’s risky to step off that linear path, but exciting to see where it can lead. I did that because I felt it was more likely I’d find something I’d enjoy much more than being a physician.” — Alisha Hsu, a 2013 economics graduate, is currently an analyst on the Marketing Analytics and Business Insights team at AbbVie.

“The point of all this is to have a happy life. That means your personal values are aligned with other parts of your life, including your professional life. There’s nothing more tragic that a physician who feels miserable in his or her career.” — Christine Todd

Back to top