As a freshman at Washington University, Tammy Shirley found herself enrolling in a French class almost as an afterthought. After years of high school French, it felt as familiar as an old habit. Little did she know the French class would pave the way for learning another type of language.
Just before her senior year in Arts & Sciences, the biochemistry major heard about a summer internship at a pediatric hospital in Nice, France. Tammy was interested in working with children, as well as pursuing a career in medicine, so the internship sounded like the perfect way to put her biochemistry major and French minor to the test.
She enjoyed every single moment of that summer—the class on French medical history, the class on French social history and culture via literature, and especially living with a French family who encouraged her interest in literature.
According to Tammy, her academic abilities skyrocketed in those few weeks. At the end of the internship, when her French family learned she was hesitant to take a French literature course the following fall, they wouldn’t hear of her missing it. As a result of their enthusiastic encouragement, she not only enrolled in the course, but was so motivated she pursued French as a second major.
Tammy says the internship and her heightened curiosity about French culture have had a profound effect on her. She has cultivated an interest in the discussion of literature, and her writing and grammar skills have improved dramatically in both French and English.
Perhaps the most unexpected change is a new-found appreciation for another type of communication.
While shadowing a French pediatrician during her internship, she observed firsthand his ability to translate complex information into simple terminology. Even when she couldn’t understand his French, she was keenly aware of his ability to defuse a tense situation and instill calmness and confidence in parents who were beside themselves with worry. She also observed the change in the doctor’s body language and tone, as he carefully explained the same illness to the six-year-old patient.
It made her realize the importance of communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, in pediatric medicine.
Tammy credits her studies in Arts & Sciences for setting the stage for the internship that solidified her intention to pursue a career in pediatric medicine. She adds that faculty and staff in Arts & Sciences are incredibly supportive, whether you’re pursuing a study-abroad opportunity or organizing a community service project, such as the $120,000 Dance Marathon fundraiser she chaired for Children’s Miracle Network. Arts & Sciences as a whole is always eager to encourage your aspirations, help you analyze pros and cons, and support you as you forge a path where none has existed before.
The internship in France continues to impact Tammy’s life. This summer, her French family has invited her to return for a two-week visit.