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Department: French and Italian

Doyle French and Italian

Mittie Kelleher Doyle ’86

Associate Director, Immunology Clinical Research and Development, Centocor

Academic freedom

After taking a human physiology course in high school, I knew I wanted to become a physician. That is precisely why I chose to pursue a major other than biology, chemistry, or other typical pre-med majors at Princeton. Knowing early that I wanted to apply to medical school, I did enroll in the basic courses required for admission, but then was left with the freedom to explore the vast array of courses that make up Princeton’s rich curriculum. I also promised myself that I would expose myself to as many other disciplines as possible to ensure that medicine was truly the right path for me.

I chose to major in Romance languages and literatures (now French and Italian) primarily because of my interest in French culture and history, which I attribute to growing up in New Orleans, but also in part due to the small size of the department. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of my experience in the department was the direct interaction with the faculty, which included illustrious figures such as Karl Uitti and André Maman, with whom I worked closely for my independent work at Princeton. In addition, a summer in Paris under the Princeton in France program complemented my course work in an unforgettable experience.

The language of medicine

Despite some initial concerns, when it came time to apply to medical school, an atypical major became an asset rather than a liability, translating into admission to multiple top-tier medical schools. I chose to attend Yale Medical School in part because of the similarities Yale’s teaching philosophy shares with Princeton (it is one of the only medical schools that requires a thesis for graduation). Perhaps predictably, I then chose a career in internal medicine, a specialty which prides itself on caring for the whole patient, followed by subspecialty training in rheumatology, which is a somewhat esoteric specialty, but one that shares a need to focus on the entire patient and his or her individual story. Modern medicine is desperately in need of humanists in the midst of the rapidly growing technological advances of modern medicine; I cannot imagine better preparation for this pursuit than a Princeton liberal arts degree.

After completing my residency in internal medicine and my fellowship in rheumatology, I spent the early years of my postgraduate career in academic medicine at Harvard. In 1999 I decided to return to my native New Orleans, and after a brief stint in private practice settled into a faculty position at Tulane Medical School, which was a perfect blend of teaching, clinical research, and patient care. However, Hurricane Katrina devastated the medical infrastructure in New Orleans, and my family and I made the difficult decision to relocate to the Northeast. Starting over at that point was entirely unexpected, yet I relied on the resourcefulness I learned at Princeton to switch gears. I now conduct clinical research and teach under the umbrella of a pharmaceutical company.

Each of the slightly different career paths I have followed since graduating from Princeton has mandated that I acquire, in many ways, a new “language.” Learning the language of medicine required skills surprisingly similar to those I honed at Princeton when I chose to major in French. Since completing my postgraduate training, I have learned the languages of not only internal medicine and rheumatology but also of academic medicine, private practice, and of the pharmaceutical industry. Furthermore, I know that I could never have enjoyed the many years of training required to become proficient in a subspecialty such as rheumatology had I not indulged my love of French culture with its rich history, literature, and art, at Princeton. As I reflect on those amazing four years there is no question that I would choose that path again if given the chance, and although one could argue that my choice of major would not have predicted the career path that I chose to pursue, I cannot imagine one more fitting.

“Learning the language of medicine required skills surprisingly similar to those I honed at Princeton when I chose to major in French. … Furthermore, I know that I could never have enjoyed the many years of training required to become proficient in a subspecialty such as rheumatology had I not indulged my love of French culture with its rich history, literature, and art, at Princeton.”