Alumni Stories: An English Major At Med School

James Pierce graduated from UC Davis in 2014 with a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. He recently started medical school at Case Western Reserve University and is studying towards an M.D. We asked James three questions about his alumni story.
 
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What are some English classes, professors, or books that have stuck with you after graduation? Why?
 
One class that has stuck with me is 20th Century American Poetry, which I took when I was a junior at Davis. We evaluated poetry as a combination of ideas and physical objects, such as sound, ink, and paper. We then applied those discussions to the way we interact with the world generally. I found it so valuable to approach writing this way, and it also gave me important analytical tools for approaching science and medicine. I think that is why it has stuck with me so much. In medicine, everything we do seems so objective and material, but we still bring our own perceptions and emotions to the table. This class gave me the tools to recognize that.
 
Congratulations on your acceptance into medical school! How has the English major helped you prepare for this? Are some of your peers surprised to learn that you studied English?
 
The English major made me a much better communicator, both in writing and in person. This has been consistently helpful in my time at medical school. In clinic, I find that I am better able to interact and relate to patients. I also have found that it is easier for me to explain advanced clinical concepts using metaphors and non-medical language that it would have been without my English major. Many of my peers are surprised to learn that I studied English, but I do not think I am the only English major here. Fortunately, many medical schools, including Case Western, value the humanities, and I believe it will lead to a very positive shift in the culture of medicine.
 
It must be very busy at medical school. Have you read or written anything recently during your free time? Any recommendations?
 
I always make sure to set aside time to read—I think I am able to get more done if I re-energize with a good piece of fiction between other obligations. Right now, I am working my way through American Literature, because there are so many American works that I have never gotten around to reading. I have been focusing on rural and political texts because I have been working in healthcare advocacy outside of class. I have found that revisiting Depression-era literature has been extremely valuable for understanding the current political climate. I just read Grapes of Wrath and was blown away by how applicable the book’s rhetoric was to today