Irène Mathieu

Class of 2009

Current Position: Pediatrician; Poet
Major: International Relations
Other Degrees: M.D., Vanderbilt University
Current Location: Philadelphia, PA

When I was interviewing for medical school and residency programs, people found my liberal arts background to be fascinating. They wanted to know how I went from majoring in international relations to a career in medicine.

I did not choose a science major because I wanted to become a doctor; rather I became a doctor because of what I learned studying international relations. This interdisciplinary major helped me understand the intersecting forces that shape people's health. I realized that I could tangibly impact people's lives not only by serving as their physician, but also by applying my understanding of these forces to public health and policy.

My liberal arts education taught me how to ask questions, listen deeply and think critically. I use these skills every day in my job. As a doctor I have to synthesize information in order to diagnose and treat patients. While medical school provided me with training in the science of medicine, my undergraduate classes in global economics, women's studies, foreign policy, religious studies and history help me understand the context of my patients' lives.

Although I did not take many English or creative writing courses at William & Mary, my education taught me how to read deeply, to teach myself and to innovate. As a result, I have published two books of poetry and established an amazing network of writer friends and mentors despite my lack of formal poetic education.

My liberal arts education gave me the space to explore my interests and more importantly, to explore ideas. There are intellectual questions I started asking in college - about public health, human rights, ethics and civic engagement - that I am still asking today. I don't think I'll ever find definite answers, but my education gave me the cognitive tools to live with these questions, which continue to inform the core values behind my work as it evolves. Because I did not feel pressured to specialize early on in my studies and chose an interdisciplinary major, I was able to explore these ideas and then select the career that made the most sense to me, intellectually and emotionally.

I understand more about the world as a result of my liberal arts studies, and that helps me to understand how the world affects people's health.