Being a medical doctor requires disciplinary focus and a targeted scientific approach. But Dr. Alicia Arbaje says it also requires a broad understanding of people and science's effects on them.
Dr. Arbaje, M.D. and master of public health from Yale Medical School and a University Honors Program alumna, is assistant professor of medicine and associate director of transitional care research in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is returning to the Honors Program on Saturday, Oct. 27 to present an alumni lecture.
Dr. Arbaje works toward and researches ways to coordinate care for older adults and keep them living independently and requiring fewer hospital stays. She has received grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for her work in the area.
Dr. Arbaje directly credits her experiences in the Honors Program with providing the basis for her multifaceted medical career.
"The Honors Program was completely revolutionary for me in my experience," she says.
An Honors sociology course she took in the summer after her freshman year helped Dr. Arbaje coalesce her interest in science with her interest in different populations: the impact of science on people. Many Honors faculty, including Steve Fawcett, Mary Klayder and Darrell Evans, helped mentor and inspire her to reach for her potential, and she realized she did not have to stay in Kansas.
"The networks created through the Honors Program are just as important as the content of the classes and learning. Those connections make a big difference later on. The mentoring I received led me to a higher level of achievement that I never would have gotten to," she says.
Her mentors encouraged her to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship, for which she became a national finalist. Even though she didn't receive the scholarship, the rigorous preparation for the applications and interviews were some of her most formative learning experiences.
"I got intensive instruction in how to present myself and my long-term goals with a concise message. That experience was huge – it helped me apply for med school and interview for med school, and I still use those skills when I apply for grants and fellowships. I'm so thankful I had people early in my education helping me think about my future in ways I wouldn't have," she says.
The multidisciplinary foundation she received in her Honors education has formed a basis for how she approaches her career and research.
"In geriatrics, we work in a team-based endeavor; from social workers, to nurses, to nutritionists, to politician, we work to facilitate communication across all stakeholders," she says. "When we focus on the person, the patient, in the center as the goal, we can find common ground. Improving the health and safety of a loved one is something everyone can rally around."
She is eager to return to KU and share her story with current Honors students. She has quite a bit of advice for them.
"Take advantage of the fact you're in such a special place," she says. "The Honors Program is there to help you move beyond your comfort zone, to push you to the edge and see what you can accomplish."
Dr. Alicia Arbaje
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
9 a.m., Saturday, October 27
Breakfast served following lecture