Pre-Medicine Alumni Profile: Calla Holmgren
North Park alumna Calla Holmgren says the best preparation for a career in the sciences is the liberal arts.
Calla Holmgren ’95 is an obstetrician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine and safe labor practices. When someone asks her for advice about picking a medical school, she always has the same answer, “Go with the cheapest one you can find.” Her point is that medical education is fairly standardized, so the best decision you can make is to graduate without a mountain of debt. But when asked about the best undergraduate preparation for a successful and satisfying medical career, she unequivocally recommends North Park University.
“There are a lot of different facets of medicine that are not exclusively science-driven,” says Holmgren, who lives and works in Salt Lake City. “In terms of science preparation, anyone graduating from North Park will be comfortable in their first- and second-year medical school courses. But it’s the broad liberal arts background—literature, sociology, history, philosophy, the fine arts—that make you into a more effective, well-rounded physician. How do you deliver bad news? How do you apply ethical principles? How does compassion fit into a medical practice? These are the critical skills you acquire through a liberal arts education.”
“College is not the time to train for a specialization,” Holmgren says, “It’s a time to figure out who you are, to understand your place in the world, and to identify the subjects and potential careers that will give you the most satisfaction. It’s a deeply subjective and gradual process, and one that benefits from lots of personal interaction with faculty mentors.”
Holmgren found her lifelong mentors in Professor Peter Pearson in the biology department and Professor Emeritus Lee Horten in the chemistry department. She remembers when she first met Dr. Horten as a freshman, before she had taken any of his classes.
“I was working on a project and asked if I could use his mass spectrometer, and he jumped up and said, ‘Sure, let me show you how it works!’” laughs Holmgren. “I was just a clueless freshman who he’d never met before. It’s so much fun to be with people who obviously care a lot about what they do and who are deeply dedicated to helping students achieve their goals.”
Holmgren remembers how Dr. Pearson would sit down with her every semester and say, “Where do you want to go from here and how do we help you get there?” When it was time to prepare for medical school interviews, Dr. Pearson made sure she was ready for every possible question.
“We were doing a mock interview and he asked, ‘What would you consider your biggest flaw?’” Holmgren remembers saying, “‘I guess I’m kind of bossy,’ but he quickly corrected me. ‘Don’t say bossy! Say assertive!’ It’s that kind of personal help and attention that you won’t get at a bigger school.”
The other vital North Park advantage is its Christian mission and service-oriented campus life. Holmgren can’t overstate how important her North Park experience has been in shaping her medical career. “Doctors are called to do more than just take care of patients for a paycheck,” says Holmgren. “There’s a desire to serve the underserved populations, to take care of people who otherwise wouldn’t have medical care available. I think that’s really, really important from both a Christian standpoint and from a diversity standpoint.”
As detailed in a recent North Parker Magazine article, Holmgren has participated in a number of international medical missions through Medical Teams International. In countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Haiti, Holmgren has applied life-saving delivery techniques to mothers and infants living in desperate conditions.