Liberal arts led Kopp to fulfilling medical career

If you’d known him then, you wouldn’t be able to picture him now. “Anybody looking at me in 1969 walking onto the campus of UNC would not have predicted I’d be sitting here now with the kind of career I’ve had,” said Vincent Kopp, assistant professor of anesthesiology. “Even I would not have predicted it.”

Liberal arts led Kopp to fulfilling medical career click to enlarge Vicent Kopp, MD

As a pediatric anesthesiologist at a major academic institution, Kopp trains medical students and residents based on knowledge he amassed not only as a scientist, but also as a lifelong learner who credits a strong humanities education as the foundation for his career.

“You don’t know when a student is going to come back 10 years down the road and say, ‘I had a thought in my English class that helped me create a new product for my company,’” said Kopp, clinical associate professor in the School of Medicine’s departments of anesthesiology and pediatrics. “You cannot predict now how anyone’s career will take shape.”

A liberal arts education

As a high school student in Raleigh, Kopp performed equally well on math and verbal portions of the SAT, and he arrived at Carolina with an open mind.

“I excelled at the sciences, but I gravitated toward the humanities. I went on to double major in English and religion,” he said. “My analytical skills were more honed by studying English literature and the world’s religions than my science courses.”

He liked his science classes, but they were more about developing a certain vocabulary, he said. In his humanities courses he learned the methodology he didn’t know he’d need years later in medical school: how to approach an idea, look for evidence, record that evidence and make an argument.

Kopp said during the late 1960s and early 1970s, ideas flowed freely at Carolina and he never felt limited to one path. He took required courses in subjects like chemistry and calculus, advanced French and independent studies in literature, and he bonded with many of his professors.

It was in a religion class with William Peck where “the world opened up,” he said. “It wasn’t just a course in religion, it was a course in how to think, how to withhold judgment on certain topics until you’d looked at them from different perspectives.”

In the meantime, he was responsible for administering insulin to a blind diabetic student on his hall in Manly Residence Hall and learned that sticking someone with a needle didn’t bother him.

“It was the most natural thing in the world,” said Kopp, who had also become familiar with the medical side of campus by working at the Health Sciences Library.

As he worked toward his bachelor’s degree, he never put any limits on what he should be when he grew up. “I didn’t let college get in the way of my education,” Kopp joked.

 

The full article can be found at the University Gazette's website here.

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