When Betzamel was a high school senior in the Dominican Republic, she knew she wanted to become a physician – that was the easy part. A combination of coursework and both personal and professional life experiences had guided her to that decision. What was harder, though, was deciding on a major. In the Dominican Republic, medicine is a major in itself, and students enroll in medical school directly after high school. Thus, it was hard to imagine choosing another major before she could go into the “major” that she really wanted, which was medicine.
However, I quickly turned that into an opportunity. I saw college as a unique time in my life where I could explore different disciplines, learn pertinent information, take on new perspectives, become a more well-rounded and knowledgeable human, and expand my mind in unimaginable ways. And I could not have chosen a better school than Northeastern, which for me represented the perfect environment to learn and to enroll in a variety of courses that challenged my perspective and beliefs in multiple ways. But I still had to choose a major. The usual majors for premedical students are biology, chemistry, health sciences, or a variation of these. Because the premedical curriculum already includes numerous courses in these sciences, I did not want to choose a major that would teach me more of the same. I wanted to exploit this unique opportunity to expand my knowledge base and force myself to look at the world from a different lens.
I ultimately decided on economics for a myriad of reasons. One of the first things I noticed when I started working in the healthcare field is that poverty and poor health are intimately interconnected. As a physician, I want to serve low-income patients not only by addressing their medical needs, but also by understanding their life circumstances and socioeconomic status. For instance, as a doctor, I cannot simply say “you should get more exercise”—maybe my patient cannot afford to pay for a gym membership or lives in a neighborhood where it is unsafe to jog outside. Understanding the economic situation of each one of my patients can help me prepare treatment plans that better suit their lifestyles, thus ensuring successful outcomes. The tools of microeconomics, specifically, have helped me understand how patients prioritize their purchases based on their preferences, how sensitive they are to the prices of healthcare goods, and how their budget constraints limit what they are able to buy.
In Public Choice Economics my assumptions about consumer rationality, which I had learned in micro economics, and is one of the core principles of the field, was tested. This assumption was challenged with tangible examples from political science, democracy, and the process of voting. It opened my eyes to the economic inefficiencies of government, the skewed incentive schemes of politicians, and the notion of voter rationality.
In Macroeconomic Theory I was able to learn and to easily apply class material to real world phenomena and current events. For example, I was able to understand why the Federal Reserve made its decision to change the interest rate after several years of economic expansion in the United States.
In Senior Seminar (Capstone) I was able to design a research project and I had the opportunity to apply material from previous economics courses as I designed an econometric model and ran a regression in order to understand the relationship between a person’s income, and their health status. This research allowed me to combine my two main academic interests, economics and medicine, and explore the many ways in which they interact.
Betzy is set to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 2022.
Economics will not only help me be a better physician, but also a more educated and overall well-versed citizen. Having studied economics has helped me understand current events and the world economy at a much deeper level, including macroeconomic measures such as the unemployment rate and inflation, as well as both fiscal and monetary policy.
I often get the following comment, with a puzzled look: “Economics and pre-med, that’s an odd combination.” This is often followed by, “Why did you choose such an odd combination?” Before giving a long-winded explanation, I usually answer the question in my mind first, “Why not?”