Spanish major is good foundation for medical student

Aaron Olson always knew he wanted languages to be a part of his career someday, he just didn’t know how.

In May 2014, Aaron Olson visited Kunde Hospital in Nepal after finishing an elective medical school rotation in Shenyang, China. Sir Edmund Hillary founded the hospital in 1966. Olson stopped at the hospital when he trekked to view Mt. Everest.

In May 2014, Aaron Olson visited Kunde Hospital in Nepal after finishing an elective medical school rotation in Shenyang, China. Sir Edmund Hillary founded the hospital in 1966. Olson stopped at the hospital when he trekked to view Mt. Everest.

That’s what led this Spanish major to ultimately go to medical school. With minors in chemistry and mathematics, Olson graduated from South Dakota State University in 2009.

“It was a gradual process that led me to medical school. I liked science, but I really liked languages and was better at them than science and math,” he said. “I wanted languages to be a part of what I did, but not my entire job.”

Now he is entering his third year of a four-year residency in internal medicine/pediatrics in Wichita, Kansas. He spends a majority of his time working in the hospital on general adult medicine and pediatrics, with subspecialty rotations.

When Olson went into medical school at the Sanford School of Medicine, he was one of very few who wasn’t a premed major.

Olson believes this was an advantage.

“It’s easier to connect with patients when you speak the same language, and it’s helpful not to have to wait for an interpreter all of the time,” Olson said. “I don’t regret time I spent in reading, writing and learning languages. The beauty I find in those things still serves as a respite from the pressures of being a physician and a counterbalance to the rigors of science.”

Olson estimates that his class was around 50 people, a majority of whom were premed, chemistry or biology majors.

The class entering the Sanford School of Medicine in fall 2015 ­had 71 students, according to Jill Christopherson, a program assistant in the Sanford School of Medicine’s medical student affairs office.

Christopherson said there are usually six to 10 students each year who have majors other than science.

“We almost always have someone in the class who doesn’t have a science major. It varies from year to year,” she said. “Everyone has to take the same prerequisites regardless of their major.”

“Last year, we had 11 nonscience majors who could possibly be considered nontraditional students,” Christopherson said. “They can be accepted as long as they have the same requirements and same experience.”

Christine Garst-Santos was one of Olson’s professors while he was at State. She considered him a “unique” student because he was a Spanish major first, with minors in science. “Usually, it is the other way around,” she said. “That’s what made him very attractive in medical schools.”

There are 80 to 90 Spanish majors at South Dakota State University, according to Garst-Santos. “A majority have double majors or multiple minors. Premed, nursing and pharmacy make up a majority of these,” she said.

Garst-Santos still talks to Olson. She said she enjoys following his career path.

“Aaron was fun to have — he knew he wanted that Spanish connection. He wanted that to be a part of what he did,” she said.

Olson stressed the importance of choosing a major students are truly interested in, not just one that might land them a job.

“Choosing a major you don’t like because you think it might help you get into a certain program, like medical school for example, can lead to disillusionment and burnout,” he said.

Olson plans to work overseas in poorer countries later in life.

Sara Bertsch

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