Humanizing Medicine: Q&A with Collin Barrett ’19

Now in his second year of medical school, Bethel history graduate Collin Barrett says his humanities degree has helped him provide compassionate care to patients.

By Chris Gehrz and Jenny Hudalla ’15, GS’21, lead communications specialist

January 04, 2022 | 10:30 a.m.

Collin Barrett

After earning a B.A. in History from Bethel, Collin Barrett '19 went on to pursue his passion for medicine.

Healthcare continues to be one of the fastest-growing fields in the nation, and students pursuing related careers often choose to major in the sciences. Still, many employers have begun to recognize the value of a liberal arts education from universities like Bethel, where students study at the intersection of the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, and natural sciences. We talked to Collin Barrett ’19, who earned a B.A. in History from Bethel, to find out how his undergraduate degree has helped him succeed in medical school. 

What brought you to Bethel?
My journey to Bethel was a bit of a happy coincidence. I had been looking at state schools around the country, but because my dad was working at another Christian university, I had the opportunity to participate in a scholarship program at any CCCU school. So, late in my senior year, I toured Bethel for nursing and decided I liked the program a lot and wanted to stay closer to home. My dad ended up leaving his university job that summer, but I decided Bethel was still the place for me, and I do not regret it one bit.

Do you have a favorite memory of your time here?
One of my fondest memories at Bethel was the night my roommate at the time, Ben, and my now-wife, Alexa, decided to sleep in our Eno hammocks by the lake. Most of my favorite memories at Bethel centered around building community with other students or being fortunate to have professors invest in me.

Why do you want to become a doctor?
My desire to become a doctor started with my calling to medicine. I grew up in a medical family—my mother is a nurse, and my father was a firefighter and first responder. The summer before attending Bethel, I decided to get a job as a CNA, and eventually a year or so later as an EMT in an emergency room. The experiences I had working and the encouragement I received in these roles really fueled my desire to continue in medicine. I had always sought to vocationally use the gifts and abilities God gave me to serve Him. I was really conflicted in college as to what this really meant, but He kept calling me back to medicine, and eventually to becoming a physician.

How did you decide to pursue both pre-med and history? What was rewarding about that combination?
Deciding to pursue both pre-med and history came out of the two areas of life that I enjoyed the most. I loved my experience working in the hospital, and I had always loved learning about history growing up. In high school, PSEO history courses became my guilty pleasure for filling my schedule, and this continued into my time at Bethel. During my first semester, I took Human Rights in International History with Professor Andy Bramsen. I loved that course and from then on knew I wanted to continue to take as many history courses as possible.

While I love medicine, I also enjoyed science. I found it fascinating to learn how the world worked in a scientific sense and apply that to my limited knowledge of healthcare. In a sense, science was the sterile building blocks, and history allowed me to see how the pieces needed to fit together in the bigger picture. In studying them together, I found I was more energized and interested in the subjects than I would have been studying either of them in isolation.

How did getting a humanities degree from Bethel prepare you for medical school?
As time has gone by in medical school, I have begun to see more and more how studying humanities has helped me. I think everyone who attends medical school is incredibly thoughtful, smart, and kind. Those are all qualities admissions committees look for throughout the admissions process. The lessons I developed in history—and actually thinking about the five Cs of historical thinking—help me to view people, diseases, and care in a very human sense.

I could break down all the Cs, but what I really have found is that every patient has a story, and each of those stories should be explored. Some people share a lot right away, while others hardly share their name. In both cases, though, being available to listen and care for my patients without judgment or assumptions helps me to enjoy what I am doing and hopefully care for my patients better.

Which focus areas are especially important to you as you enter the healthcare field?
The University of Minnesota’s health system has an incredible reach in Minnesota. It is uniquely suited in the center of downtown Minneapolis to provide care for patients who need it the most, but it also extends up to the Iron Range, thus providing care for another unique population with individual challenges. These connections, along with incredible research, social, and academic infrastructure have already allowed me to do research in cardiology, volunteer in nutrition education, and hopefully train in rural Minnesota to see the unique challenges individuals seeking healthcare face in those communities.

I think there is a compassion gap in healthcare, and for better or worse COVID-19 has accentuated and intensified a problem that was traditionally ignored. I personally can attest to my own compassion fatigue at times and seek to address this. Currently, I am working on learning how to make a patient feel heard, valued, and cared for while trying to partner with them to meet their healthcare goals. This isn’t going to fix any institutional or accessibility gaps in healthcare, but I hope it can make a difference in my future patients’ healthcare experience. 

Study history at Bethel. 

In Bethel’s Department of History, you’ll explore significant social, cultural, religious, and political developments from the past—and you’ll leave prepared for meaningful global citizenship, no matter where you're called.

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