Marc Cardelia ’85
Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon
I wanted to be a physician for as long as I can remember. Certainly it would go back to my earliest serious ruminations about what I wanted to do with my life. My father was a physician so I was fortunate to have a bird’s-eye view. He made it possible for me to spend time with other physicians, learning about various specialties. I arrived at college with firm plans to take the pre-med course work. It may seem surprising, but I did not choose to attend Princeton because I thought it would ensure my path to medical school. Of course I was aware that I would be adequately prepared if I was successful academically. However, I chose Princeton based on completely separate criteria: the diversity of offerings and the breadth of college experiences I anticipated. I had been seriously recruited by several prominent collegiate men’s gymnastic teams, and I was offered athletic scholarships. My path might have been very different had I chosen to attend one of these other schools. At that time, the coach of Princeton’s team was attempting to build a program, and he had the support of the athletic department in recruiting candidates. I was faced with a choice very early on. Attend a gymnastic powerhouse program (one of my dreams) while attempting to maintain a rigorous pre-med curriculum, or choose a different athletic challenge on a smaller stage. My charge would be to help build the prominence of the program through individual and team achievements. At the same time, I saw an opportunity to avail myself of perhaps the finest undergraduate experience in the country. I’ll admit that I was astonished to be accepted. Looking back, it is hard to imagine being conflicted about this choice, but I was. In the end, I came to my senses and chose Princeton, and it was perhaps the best decision I have ever made.
Student of human behavior
I don’t believe that I ever gave a thought to how my chosen concentration of study would affect my career choice. I simply knew that I must take the required prerequisite courses to apply to medical school and beyond that, I would choose as a major something that I found interesting. I had taken an abnormal psychology course in high school and was fascinated. I also had enjoyed biology courses in high school. What I found truly intriguing however, was the concept of the self and the behavior it supposedly generates. It is the essence of what we term “being human.” Various academic disciplines such as religion, philosophy, and psychology attempt to explore and understand this. My sense was that they were picking at the edges. I was interested in a different angle. Neuroscience to me seemed to be at the heart of the discussion. What are the biologic and physiologic explanations for how we behave? Perhaps it was the budding “clinician” in me looking for objective data. In any event, this is about as close as I can come to explaining how I came to an A.B. in psychology from Princeton University. I am not sure that it had any tangible effect on my career path, nor do I think that that is very important. If I had a chance to do it over, I might have been an English or history major. College is the time to expand horizons and seek out different views. If one chooses to go on to postgraduate work, there will be plenty of time for hyperfocus. By choosing to major in something that sparks curiosity and enthusiasm, the drive and dedication that naturally flow from this, will be more than adequate preparation for whatever lies beyond one’s years at Princeton.
Being a pediatric orthopedic surgeon poses many professional challenges. The technical and clinical aspects of the field are the most obvious, and for some in my profession, the most rewarding. The problems facing my young patients and their families can be very stressful, and I am frequently confronted with the full spectrum of expected and unexpected resulting behaviors. I have colleagues who have told me that this is precisely why they did not go into pediatrics! I suppose that because I have a history of being a student of human behavior, I find this one of the more interesting aspects of what I do. It certainly keeps it exciting and entertaining. Does this mean that I always get it right and have universally outstanding rapport with my patients and unfailingly sterling bedside manner? Perhaps not. But then again, I’m human too.