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How 9/11 inspired a UW Health doctor to change career paths

While working in NYC, Lisa Arkin never imagined a career in the medical field.
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 4:59 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:19 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Two decades after 9/11, a UW Health doctor reflects on how the events of that day shaped her career path.

Lisa Arkin is currently the Director of Pediatric Dermatology at UW Health and an associate professor at the UW-Madison School of Medicine.

Twenty years ago, she had never given any thought to becoming a physician or attending medical school.

In 2001, Arkin was living in New York City working in Creative Development at Showtime. On September 11th, she was headed downtown for jury duty.

“It was my first time as a college graduate having jury duty,” Arkin recalled. “It was the first day and I had to report there at 9 o’clock.”

On her way to the courthouse, she got stuck on the subway.

“We were actually underground for a couple of hours because of the devastation just trying to figure out what was happening,” said Arkin.

When she finally got above ground, Arkin navigated her way through the chaos.

“I walked uptown for miles. It was more smoke and dust than I had ever seen before,” said Arkin. “It was like the world was ending. It was a completely, utterly, earth-shattering day.”

Before 9/11, Arkin had spent time volunteering at St. Vincent’s Hospital, primarily working with children who had cystic fibrosis.

“In the early 2000s, it was a fatal pediatric disease. I would bring some of the actors I had worked on projects with to make them feel better,” said Arkin. “Doing things like playing cards, watching movies, giving them a little pick me up.”

Because of her familiarity with the hospital, Arkin decided to volunteer with 9/11 relief at St. Vincent’s.

She spent nights answering phones and trying to help match people and locate their loved ones or relatives.

“It was a very difficult week, as there were very few survivors,” said Arkin. “A lot of last phone calls, last moments, that I couldn’t get out of my head.”

Arkin says she felt a sense of powerlessness.

“I wanted to give more,” she said. “I had this sense that if I had been a physician than I would have more to give.”

She decided to change careers and attend medical school.

“It wasn’t an easy guaranteed path, but it was absolutely right for me,” said Arkin. “I feel so privileged that I was maybe like foolish enough to think that I could do this.”

Arkin says 9/11 is a day she’ll never forget because it compelled her to make a life-changing decision.

“I’m so grateful that I seized a moment because without it my life would be completely different,” said Arkin.

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