I studied German in middle school and through high school, including spending a summer in Bavaria as an exchange student. When I came to the University of Washington as a freshman in 1991, I had already planned on a career in medicine, but I wanted to continue my language studies. I changed my major to German as a freshman when I realized that this period of my life might the last time that I could explore the humanities in any kind of comprehensive way. (Thankfully, this turned out to be wrong.)
I was lucky enough to stay at UW for medical school, and then I went on active duty as a Navy medical officer. I completed my residency in internal medicine and fellowships in infectious diseases and in critical care medicine at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, where I presently serve as the director of the subspecialty training program in infectious diseases. We take care of adult patients with complex infectious problems, such as HIV, tuberculosis, or cardiac infections. I also have the good fortune to be part of a large research group, conducting studies on influenza, HIV, and fungal infections in the military. My wife, Robin, is a nurse-educator, and we have three teenage children.
In the Navy, I’ve mostly been stationed in California, trying and failing to get back the Northwest for about twenty years now. I spent a few years as the flight surgeon for the carrier air wing onboard the USS George Washington, deploying in 2002, and spent most of 2012 in Afghanistan working at the NATO combat hospital in Kandahar. I spent another three years overseas doing research in Peru, and I continue to travel to Peru every year to teach. My German studies helped me pick up Spanish more easily; the process of learning one language makes it easier to acquire another one, despite the differences between the two. I certainly had an easier time getting used to multiple ways to say “you” and handling grammatical gender.
My colleagues are often surprised to find out that I was a German major, but my time in the UW Department of Germanics has been a great advantage for me professionally. There are a handful of times when the language skills have been a big help, often in unexpected ways. When I was in Afghanistan, I admitted a Turkish NATO contractor with a serious illness; he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t have any Turkish interpreters readily available, but we figured out after a few minutes that we both spoke German. He ultimately recovered, thankfully.
Beyond the obvious language advantages, though, the education I received in Germanics has made me a better researcher and, I hope, a better doctor. The practice of medicine requires the constant exchange of ideas in order to function well. We talk to patients, we talk to families, we talk to each other. Our Department honed my ability to assess the written word critically and construct a logical argument. An understanding of the mechanics of German grammar makes you a better writer in any language. The humanistic tradition of German literature gives you insights into human nature that I would have missed if I took just one more quarter of organic chemistry.
It is a delight to be able to continue to interact with UW Germanics again after all this time. Ich wünsche allen viel Glück und danke Ihnen für all die tollen Gelegenheiten.