Meghan Liroff (A.B. ’09) comes from a family of doctors. Medicine, she says, is her family business. Her dad is a doctor, as are her two siblings. Her mom treats people struggling with addiction. “Growing up, we were encouraged to think about how to make the world a better place, and medicine was our environment. I have always wanted to be a doctor.”

Like most undergrads planning for med school, Liroff was careful about choosing her major and mapping out a schedule that included a slot for all of her med-school pre-requisites: “Orgo I, P-chem, bio-chem,” she recalls—and, half-laughing, half-shuddering, “Orgo II.” But she departed from the typical pre-med path when it was time to declare her major: women’s studies. As for the med-school pre-requisites? She took them as electives

Most of her peers in medical school arrived with backgrounds heavy in science, she says. “They didn’t have to study for those first few tests.” She, on the other hand, did. But she says her degree gave her a boost in other types of knowledge she needed as a doctor: in particular, an ability to connect to her patients and communicate with them.

“I see people for 15 minutes when they are hurt or sick,” says Liroff, “and often when they’re very scared. These exchanges have a kind of accelerated intimacy.”

“My women’s studies classes gave me a framework and structure to approach people with tolerance and acceptance. In the E.R., we see people from all walks of life, and we treat them with the same good care. When I step into a room to gather a patient’s medical history, I need to be able to have an interaction that helps me learn everything I need to know to help them. A strong awareness and an appreciation of difference certainly helps with that.”

Liroff says her belief in the value and importance of her work helps her remain idealistic. “I try to connect with people where they are, and try to make a difference in my patients’ lives. In the E.R., we don’t turn anyone away. We care for everyone, and I believe in that.”

There are opportunities for emergency room physicians to expand their roles into other areas, but this is where Liroff believes she belongs. “I wanted to do emergency medicine serving the people of Detroit within Detroit proper. It’s certainly stressful, but I believe in walking into the room thinking that what happens there is a chance to be a force for good and change in the world. That’s definitely something I got from my mom and dad,” she says, excited to be carrying on the family business.

Liroff’s journey from women’s studies to the E.R. demonstrates the flexibility of a liberal arts degree. Visit our interactive chart to see more paths between majors and career fields, based on data from more than 4,000 LSA alums.
Photos by Katie Barkel