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Securing America’s Future:

The Power of Liberal Arts Education

Angela S. Earley

Captain, Medical Corps, United States Navy; Surgical Residency Program Director, Naval Medical Center
College of Mount St. Joseph (OH), Class of 1991
Commander Angela S. Earley, MD, is the program director of the general surgery residency program and on the teaching staff at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. She also is assistant professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, and has served on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Ohio State University. Earley advanced to the rank of captain in 2013, after serving in active duty for the United States Navy since 1995.
 
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In 2007, Earley deployed as a trauma surgeon in support of the U.S. Marines to Al Taqaddam, Iraq, where she served as the officer in charge of the Mobile Forward Resuscitative Surgical System. She was hand-selected to serve as the officer in charge and lead U.S. trauma and general surgeon at the United Kingdom Role 3 Hospital, Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010.
From the time I was old enough to consider career choices, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon. My entire academic track was focused on that mission. When I enrolled in college, I had the option of attending a small liberal arts college or a large university with a specific premedical curriculum. When I first visited Mount St. Joseph and met with the professors in the biology and chemistry department, I knew a liberal arts education would be right to help me stay on track toward medical school. In addition to the obvious benefits of small class size, the professors were accessible and could share valuable insights. They also recognized my passion for medicine, so they directed me toward appropriate research opportunities and work experiences. By the time I took the medical school entrance exam, I was well prepared for my next academic challenge.
 
The required courses outside of the sciences were formative in my professional development. Writing and public speaking are a regular part of my daily activities as a physician, educator, and leader. History, philosophy, and ethics education provided the foundation of my daily decisions, which may range from the mundane to life and death surgical interventions. I recognized a need to pass on this decision-making foundation to my residents in the form of a medical ethics curriculum in surgery education.

The required courses outside of the sciences were formative in my professional development. Writing and public speaking are a regular part of my daily activities as a physician, educator, and leader.

Outside of academics, campus life should be one of the most important considerations when choosing a college. I recognized the advantages of a small, pedestrian-friendly campus with a solid safety record. In retrospect, I probably developed most of my leadership and crisis management skills as a dorm resident assistant. Living in the dorm also allowed me to establish my independence and interact with students from other academic disciplines, backgrounds, and countries. Many became life-long friends.
 
Four years of undergraduate study at a small liberal arts school provided the solid foundation on which to build my additional 11 years of medical training and education. When asked about education in preparation for a medical career, I enthusiastically recommend liberal arts institutions, because I know the student, and ultimately the community, will benefit from the experience. As a program director for a surgical residency, I am responsible for reviewing every application and selecting students for training. I have long held that the best trainees are not those who easily pick up the technical skills; the best trainees are those that have the ability to make sound judgments based on reasoning, knowledge, and experience. I truly believe it often starts with a liberal arts education.
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