Princeton A-Z | Search

Jeremy Spiegel '92, Psychiatrist

Art & Archaeology

Why I chose art and archaeology

I always knew that some version of science lay in my future. As a freshman I envisioned concentrating in physics or molecular biology. Then I became fascinated with modern and contemporary art: Professor Robert Lubar's ''History of Modern Art'' exposed me to a new language. I could not ignore the desire to learn this foreign language or, more appropriately, to look at life and art with this foreign eye.

Over the next two years I took all the usual pre-med courses, still thinking I had to be practical and major in science if I wanted to go to medical school. But one sunny summer afternoon, while preparing 5-Molar salt solutions in Professor Shirley Tilghman's lab, I realized that I needed to do something radical, self-indulgent, and wonderful: to concentrate in art history. This shift in focus ultimately proved to be one of the most valuable decisions in shaping my career because it permitted me to see differently and refined my capacity to see.

Opening my eyes and ears

After Princeton, I attended Dartmouth's medical school. Interestingly, of 50 students in my class at Dartmouth, six were Tigers, most having concentrated in the humanities.

Medical school provided me with an opportunity to meld my interests. Once again, I learned to look with a foreign eye -- at X-rays, anatomy, physiology, pathology, and, finally, at psychiatry. Not surprisingly, I found psychiatry to be the most fascinating and the least binary of the medical specialties. ''Looking'' then became ''listening with the third ear.''

Combining my passions

Despite the grueling clinical demands on my time, I made room for the study of the medical humanities. A paper I wrote, ''A Sense of Story,'' was the cover feature in Dartmouth Medicine magazine. In it I made a case for the relevance of three of Freud's most beloved works -- Hamlet, The Brothers Karamazov, and Oedipus Rex -- in a contemporary general-psychiatric clinic. I also found ways to incorporate art into my work during my psychiatric residency at the University of New Mexico, such as publishing a paper based on a fascinating psychotherapy case, organizing a retreat for my colleagues at Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch, and even treating artists.

Today I am a board-certified adult psychiatrist. In clinical practice I work with a wide variety of people with different mental disorders -- depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic, generalized anxiety, and substance abuse, among others. As a sideline, I have visited Japan three times in the past two years, initially for professional reasons, and thereafter for cultural and language-learning pleasure -- following the example of a much-admired Princeton art history professor, who first studied physics but went on to pursue Chinese language and art.

Concentrating in a small department at Princeton has enriched my life personally and professionally in a way that I could not have anticipated. I am so thankful I took the chance and followed my passion. If I hadn't, it could have set an unfortunate precedent for me to stay on the middle path, ever avoiding what may have seemed risky, or potentially disagreeable, or impractical, instead of acknowledging what is dear and true to my heart.

The ''indulgent'' undergraduate time is the perfect time to start doing such things. It is so easy to get lost in the ''shoulds'' of having to prepare for the next hurdle: the next test, class, exam, paper deadline, job interview, ad infinitum. Research supports the notion that people make better decisions and think more creatively when they are happy. Being bright and burned out is not a way to get what one wants in life. My Princeton art history years have allowed me to develop another angle in my life: to see differently in my work with patients and to pursue interests that aren't directly related to medicine.

prev | next | top