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Sarah Zarrin '13

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Classics was not on my radar when I started Princeton in the fall of 2009. Having been raised in Silicon Valley, STEM subjects had been the emphasis of my early education. I loved the neat logic of science and math, but also grew up reading and knew that study of the humanities and literature was also important to me. A blossoming interest in ancient religion, encouraged by Professor Naphtali Meshel of the religion department, led me to take an intensive course in ancient Greek over the summer at UC Berkeley after my sophomore year. In ten weeks, I went from not knowing any Greek to reading Plato and Lysias. Though one of my most difficult educational experiences, it was also one of the most rewarding. In learning Attic Greek, I found the neat logic I had always loved about math and science while reading literature. After that summer at Berkeley, I knew I wanted to concentrate in Classics.

Though I discovered Classics midway through my academic career at Princeton, the Classics Department welcomed me. Courses with Professor Brooke Holmes on Greek tragedy and Professor Yelena Baraz on Roman letters deepened my command of the languages and sharpened my ability to think critically about ancient texts. I eventually shifted my focus to the study of Late Antiquity. Professor Emmanuel Bourbouhakis helped me read the twisted, elaborate syntax of the early church fathers, and understand the linguistic and cultural shifts of Greek, as well as the reception of classical Greek during the rise of Christianity.

As graduation neared, I debated what I wanted to do after Princeton. I sought a career that blended art and science, so I decided to head down the long road to become a doctor. I enrolled in UPenn’s post-baccalaureate program to complete my premed requirements. Though at this point it had been several years since I had taken science courses, I trusted that the rigors of the Classics Department and the work ethic instilled in me would prepare me to excel in my premed coursework. I started medical school at Mount Sinai in New York City in 2015, and I am now a general surgery resident at Sinai.

I love my job as a surgeon and can’t imagine doing anything else. My days are long and busy, but very rewarding. I operate on many different parts of the body, from the neck, to the abdomen, to the feet. I round on our patients after their surgeries and help them navigate their illness and post operative course. I am a consultant for my internal medicine and emergency room colleagues, and give recommendations for their patients with surgical disease. General surgery’s broad training made our department important members of the hospital team during the height of the COVID pandemic. Our surgery team placed all the central lines (special catheters in large veins) for the hospital and helped care for patients in the intensive care unit on life support. After residency, I plan to pursue further subspecialty training in trauma surgery and critical care, and work in a small community in need of general surgeons.

Though I took a longer road to medicine, I am truly grateful for my time at Princeton, where I was able to fully focus on something as unique and beautiful as Classics. Naturally, Classics’ emphasis on different cultures and languages has prepared me well for New York City’s diverse patient population. However, my background in humanities gives me more than that. The study of Classics prepared me well for the many artistic intangibles of being a doctor. On a daily basis, I have the privilege to confront life and its limits, sickness, loss, and the messy complexity of humanity. Grief, resilience, love, violence—themes as ancient as they are permanent fixtures of the human condition, which I once studied in the classroom—now live with me every day in the hospital.

There is an ongoing national conversation about burnout among physicians, a group of professionals with an unfortunately high rate of depression. An important part of finding happiness in any job is having recourse to things you love. Taking the time as an undergraduate to do something that truly made me happy, and that I continue to engage with, has been protective to my mental health and helps keep me a happy, well-rounded doctor.

I would encourage those interested in medicine to consider Classics as a path to becoming a physician. The rigor of our Classics department, and particularly the study of languages as difficult as Latin and Greek, will prepare you for the rigors of medical school. (I can’t think of a single class in medical school as difficult at turbo Greek!) Sight reading will teach you to think on your feet. Your ancient languages will follow you to anatomy lab and is a reminder of the Greeks’ enduring legacy as early investigators of the human body. And perhaps most important of all, humanities will prepare you well for a career in caring for humans.

Sarah Zarrin Performing Surgery

Dr. Sarah Zarrin, Classics 2013, performing surgery.