English alumna Lucy Lawrence (’21) believes good medicine begins with holding space for people’s stories. As she prepares to enter her first year of medical school, she shared why studying art and literature is an invaluable foundation for a career in healthcare.
Engaging empathy through English studies
After speaking with her for just a few minutes, it becomes plainly clear: Lucy Lawrence cares. She cares about her family and friends, her community, and learning how to be the best doctor she can. She understands that becoming a great doctor will require her to not only gain significant clinical experience and a deep understanding of her coursework, but also actively employ empathy in her daily care and practice.
“In medicine, you’re meeting people in their moments of greatest vulnerability, their greatest fear, their greatest need,” she said. “And we need to be giving good care that reflects these circumstances and values compassion during hardship.”
Lawrence credits this philosophy as a direct product of the liberal arts education she received at Colorado State University. Graduating in 2021 with a degree in English literature and a minor in Spanish, she received the Monfort Scholarship and was a member of the Phi Kappa Beta honor society. Lawrence excelled at balancing a diverse workload, which had her taking courses in everything from language and literature to biochemistry and physics.
“I always joke that during my junior year, I went from my anatomy cadaver lab to Shakespeare—and though they are two very different fields, in both classes we talked a lot about death,” Lawrence said. “But there’s humanity there too.”
Lawrence noted that the pandemic (which began during her junior year at CSU) directly influenced her decision to pursue medical school. “I had a lot of professors that really impacted me and came alongside me and encouraged me during that time. I think the support and community I had then is kind of a microcosm of why I wanted to pair English with medicine.”
“I think the support and community I had then is kind of a microcosm of why I wanted to pair English with medicine.” – Lucy Lawrence (’21)
Two faculty members that made the greatest impression on Lawrence were Associate Professor Dr. Lynn Shutters and Academic Success Coordinator Joanna Doxey.
“Dr. Shutters was a huge support for me because she really challenged me in my writing. I think from her classes I became a much better writer and better thinker,” Lawrence said. “I feel like she saw me as an individual, as a person—not just as a student or a number.”
During her senior year, Lawrence took an eco-poetry course taught by Doxey to fulfill her capstone requirement that proved incredibly influential. It was in this classroom Lawrence realized the intimate connection between art, science, service, and medicine in a final project on the Flint, Michigan water crisis.
“That was a project that really combined a lot of my passions,” she said. “And Joanna was so encouraging and supportive of me, and how I wanted to explore those ideas.”
Getting into medical school
Since the pandemic, medical school applicants have only increased. According to U.S. News and World, acceptance rates hover around 4% (or lower). After Lawrence graduated from CSU, she knew she needed to gain hands-on experience in the medical field to become a competitive applicant. “I worked for a year as a medical assistant at a dermatology clinic and at the same time I studied and took the MCAT and finished two classes that were prerequisites for medical school,” she said. “Last year was very much a prep year for me and just getting all my boxes checked.”
Looking back on the process, Lawrence believes having a degree in English under her belt helped her stand out and only strengthened her application.
“Being an English major was one of the biggest assets for me when applying to medical school,” she said. “These days, medical schools are looking for candidates who communicate clearly, work well in a team environment, and are willing to go into kind of dark caves with people. And that is, I think, what a major in English at CSU has given me.”
Passion for poetry and service
Lawrence is now less than a summer away from entering the next chapter of her professional life. Beginning in early July, Lawrence will officially start her medical training at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When asked how she’ll be spending the months leading up to entering the most intense years of her education, she answered enthusiastically: reading poetry. “Right now, I’m loving Olio by Tyehimba Jess. He challenges readers to not just read his poetry but experience it, breathe it in, feel its weight, and be a part of its liberating work.”
Lawrence continued, “When I reflect on who I want to be as a doctor, I think of the dual nature of Jess’s poetry. It is artistry, and it is inherently dignity-producing.”
In addition to moving her way through a deep reading list, Lawrence is spending the calm before the storm of her first year in med school working a job as a medical scribe, and participating in a fellowship program that offers courses in leadership and professional development for recent college graduates. She recently returned from Quito, Ecuador, where she collaborated with a nonprofit that works with students at risk of not graduating from high school.
Though Lawrence wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she began her education at CSU, she knew she wanted to do something that could pair creativity and language with service.
“I always wanted to do a profession that had a service component and was people-oriented, and I did not know what that was going to look like in high school. Yet some of the people that most impacted my life at that time were my English teachers. I loved the power of words and how words change us and help us understand and heal from our experiences and connect with people.”
Advice for current students
A major piece of advice Lawrence had for students who are studying liberal arts and interested in pursuing medicine?
“Don’t let fear hold you back,” she said. “If you’re passionate about it, try not to look at all the steps ahead because there’s just so many. Just take it one step at a time. Don’t let your decision be guided by fear or feeling inadequate or feeling impostor syndrome.”
Lawrence echoed that the world needs doctors who value compassion and clear communication. “I really believe that we need more people in the medical field that understand how to put the human experience into words,” she said. “I am so excited to begin my medical career and serve people not only as a physician but also as a poet.”
Studying literature at CSU
The English department is home to five undergraduate programs: creative writing, English education, linguistics, literature, and writing, rhetoric, and literacy. The literature concentration’s curriculum invites students to engage in the critical study of literature in English produced in a range of historical eras and geographical locations. In addition to poetry, prose, and drama, students also encounter contemporary and historical texts that challenge their definitions of literature. Students can expect guidance in developing their critical and analytical writing skills and in becoming conversant with theories and methods for analyzing texts. Learn more about the program: https://col.st/wEtaI