Eve Glaza was a ballerina with a touring group based in Salt Lake City before she made the decision. For Gordon Clarke it came after years of uncertainty about his commitment to the ministry. Martin Horn made the choice "in a natural way" despite working as a potter.
On Friday the three joined their 145 classmates and graduated from the George Washington University Medicine School.
On the even of their taking the Hipocratic oath they reflected about their years at the school, the professor they have just entered, and what led to their decision four years ago to switch careers.
"I think that having a broad background in the arts certainty helps a person to retain those qualities which are somehow ignored throughout the (medical) training," said Horn of the intense scientific training medical students must undergo.
Yet all three agreed that despite the narrow constraints imposed by medical education, they found their fellow students generally broad-minded and concerned about the ethical and moral issues that now confront the profession.
"I haven't felt that our class has been the stereotype I've heard so much about," Glaza said. She admitted that students were concerned about making money, but attributed this principally to the huge debts (about $25,000 most of the graduates must now pay to cover the cost of their education.
The three students enthusiastically recommended that others follow in their path and take some time off to pursue other interests before entering the demanding world of medicine.
Glaza was first introduced to science courses as an undergraduate at the university of Utah, where she majore in fine arts. Ballet students, she explained, were encouraged to take anaotmy and physiology courses to learn about the body and how it moves.
"I never really said, 'I'm going to go to medical school." I just took a few more courses in biology and chemistry and took it from there."
Glaza, who will begin an internship in psychiatry at Georgtown University this summer, said that she realized that she did not particularly want to teach ballet.
In the last few years she has been able to use her ballet training to work with children in the burn unit at Children's Hospital. She said that she has taught children to dance as a way of keeping them moving and preventing the scar tissue from the burns from immobilizing their joints. It also helped her to communicate with the children.
"People are often able to express their feelings a lot more freely with their bodies than with words," Glaza said. "Even children who did not share the same language were able to understand these movement games."
Since he arrived at GW four years ago, Clark has been particularly concerned with the ethical issues that have come to the forefront of the medical profession in recent years as advancing technology has made patients artificially alive for long perios.
"I was really amazed when I got here that there was no medical ethics program and no university chaplancy program," Clark said.
Clark, 29, received a Master of Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in 1973 but decided not to be ordained since he was not going to practice.
"The reason I went (into the ministry) wasn't so much because I wanted to go into the ministry but because it gave me an opportunity to combine social work with concern for the individual." He sees medicine in similar terms.
Clark, who plans to specialize in psychiatry and primary care, is critical of American medicine for failing to deal adequately with patients as individuals and with the bereavement problems of close relatives.
"I think there is much emphasis on looking for a cure for cancer instead of treating those who are currently suffering from it," he said. "In a hospital sitution, which is cure oriented, a cancer patient is just not appreciated. He's a threat to the cure oriented system."
Dr. L. Thompson Bowles, the dean for student affairs, said that despite the demanding academic curriculum students are oriented to think about ethical issues, and that discussions often spring from their experiences in the hospital.
"Some of the most compelling ethical discussions I've had have been focused on individual patients," he said. Dr. Bowles added that it was impossible for students to avoid the ethical implications of some cases they confront.
For Horn, the pottery maker, the decision to go to medical school did not represent as big a change as it did for the other two. Unlike Clarke and Glaza, his interest in the arts came at a later stage in life. "I came towards medical school just in a natural way over many years," he said.
Horn, 25, has worked as a professional potter for short periods, including a stint in which he and a friend established a small pottery shop in New Hampshire. At the University of Vermont he majored in zoology and minored in fine arts.
Should things not go well for the three in medicine, at least they can reply on their previous skills. As a friend told Clarke, "That's great, Gordon if you can't cure them at least you can bless them."