Great Books, Great Doctors

These days, everyone knows the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Dr. Anthony Fauci. But how cool is this? “America’s Doctor” has a liberal arts degree in classics and philosophy.

Before St. John’s, when I imagined what future doctors study in college, the first subjects that came to mind were things like biology or chemistry. But while the sciences are essential, Dr. Fauci considers his background in classics and philosophy to be an important part of his work in public health. In fact, classical languages and philosophy might well be called his first love:

“Fauci spent a lot of his life studying Latin and Greek and Romance languages and philosophy. He was very deeply concerned with the humanities. He wasn’t a guy just saying, ‘What are the English courses I need to take to graduate so I can go to medical school?’ It was pretty much the inverse. He was saying, ‘What are the science courses I need to take to go? Because these other things are also very important.’

And that’s not really a surprise to those of us at St. John’s. We all study biology, chemistry, Ancient Greek, philosophy, French, literature, history, music, and more. We read a lot. We write a lot. We talk even more. The skills you learn from four years of this education are the exact skills that enable someone like Dr. Fauci to succeed tackling the most pressing problems of our day:

“Infectious diseases are diseases that spread among people, and that is a discipline that requires a sort of social interaction. There are some medical disciplines where you can go in and do your job. If you’re a surgeon, you’ll take things out and maybe you have good bedside manner and maybe you don’t, but what we really care about is are you good with your hands?”

“That’s not as true with the type of doctor that Fauci is. … He certainly has said — and said to me — that the combination of the humanities and science seemed to push him towards being a certain type of physician. Because physicians are people who interpret science and deliver it to people — but they need to do it in a human way. They need to do it in a way that people understand, and I think we all know that is sometimes in short supply.”

Many St. John’s graduates have gone on to have successful careers in medicine, such as immunologist Martin Guadinski, neurosurgeon Justin Cetas, and cancer physician Stephen Forman. All St. John’s students take three full years of laboratory science, performing experiments and discussing the work of great scientific minds with their classmates. Where else will you find yourself assigned William Harvey’s seminal work on the circulation of blood through the body, or Hans Driesch’s pioneering work in embryology? Where else eschew majors so that you find the connections between the sciences and philosophy, religion, politics, and law?

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