Jane O’Donnell: The Road Less Traveled

by Michelle Le Tung '98

Which professor to write about? How can I possibly narrow it down to one?

Do I write about Robert Pinnell, who sat with me week after week to “push electrons” for organic chemistry? Do I write about David Sadava, who insisted that I will one day be addressed as “Dr. Tung”? (I was never called “Dr. Tung,” not because I didn’t become a physician, but because I married and changed my name prior to earning my degree.) Or do I write about Ms. Haag, who helped me to become a singer and talked me out of getting married right out of college so that I could give medicine a try? Perhaps various professors hold that one spot for me at different times of my life.

At the present, I choose to write about Professor Jane O’Donnell. She was my advisor for my major in music. She taught “Singer’s Diction,” when I had this grandiose delusion that I would magically absorb her knowledge of French diction without ever practicing it. She also made classical music history fun and exciting. However, the biggest impact she had in my life was showing me that I need to utilize all my potential.

It was my senior year, and while I had turned in my medical school applications, I was still full of doubt: was I really supposed to become a doctor? The road seemed so arduous and impossible. Perhaps I needed a career that was more amenable to having a family. I came back from a Christian fellowship retreat and was convinced that I should forego medical school, and instead, go to seminary and become a Christian counselor. I thought this plan was doable and worthwhile. I bounced into Professor O’Donnell’s office one day and announced this. She looked at me, and said, “No, Michelle, you go to medical school and learn of other ways to heal people.”

I was shocked—Professor O’Donnell was a nun! Why would she discourage me from this path? She called my friend, the Reverend Catharine Grier Carlson at the McAlister Religious Center, and talked to her about my big announcement. In the end, I was convinced by both of them that going to medical school would give me more tools and options than seminary would.

Fast forward eight years. I am now in my last year of psychiatry residency training. I am grateful for Professor O’Donnell and the Rev. Carlson’s advice—I did learn so much about helping others. I am able to work with the neurotic, as well as the psychotic, and have not only words, but also medications, at my disposal.

I doubt I would be where I am today without the guidance of all the professors at Scripps. Nonetheless, a special thank you to Professor O’Donnell for challenging me to take the road less traveled.


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