Quelle surprise: A healthcare provider in Iowa who speaks fluent French

CATEGORIES: Winter 2021
Headshot of Ryan E. Anderson
Ryan E. Anderson, PA-C

When Ryan Anderson (’11, French studies) decided to shift from her career as a high school French teacher to a medical career, she was pleasantly surprised how much of an advantage she had.

“To be honest, when I first pursued medicine, I thought my French degree would be a set back because so many pre-meds have a biomedical science degree. How wrong I was! My French degree was a constant topic of discussion at graduate school interviews and job interviews. It has set me apart in a positive way,” said Anderson, who is now a successful physician’s assistant based out of Cedar Rapids. “My French degree demonstrates commitment and the ability to think differently.”

With the large population of French-speaking immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa that populate Eastern Iowa, Anderson has the unique opportunity to put her French skills to practice on a weekly basis.

“I’ve been able to connect with my Francophone patients and deliver more effective care because of my French. Nothing really matches the look of surprise and relief when I walk into an exam room and introduce myself in French. It’s an instant and unique connection,” added Anderson.

After transferring to ISU as a sophomore, Anderson stated she chose to major in French simply because of her natural aptitude and affinity for it. She believes the skills she developed while studying French at ISU, such as her communication skills, cultural appreciation, and emotional intelligence, have greatly helped her to be a better practitioner of medicine.

When thinking back upon her experiences at Iowa State, Anderson remembers Dr. Stacy Weber-Fève as her favorite professor due to her wisdom, charisma, enthusiasm for teaching, and for her always being available to students. Anderson believes that studying other cultures outside of your own is a great way to learn to think and live differently which is definitely a good skill to have.

Even though Anderson was majoring in French, she was encouraged to take classes in other language sections in WLC, and she says that in her experience she felt that all the different language departments were interconnected despite being technically separate, which gave the overall department a welcoming sense of community. French Cinema, along with 20th century Russian Culture, and Early Chinese Culture were some of Anderson’s favorite classes at Iowa State. During her three years in the WLC, Anderson recalls how academically diverse the program was.

“Every professor had very specific interests and talents that provided a well-rounded education,” she recalled.

The one thing Anderson wishes she had participated more in are the language conversation tables or the language exchange program that the department offers to students.

“I was so worried about speaking perfectly that I lost sight of the goal of language learning – communicating! I also wish that I had the opportunity to dive into additional coursework regarding Francophone Africa diaspora and culture,” said Anderson. “It wasn’t until I was teaching French that I realized I couldn’t really discuss modern France without discussing colonization and diaspora.”

For her parting words of wisdom, Anderson stressed that, “Choosing to study a language in college is an invaluable experience. Even if you do not speak your language on a daily basis or become particularly fluent, the act of learning and engaging with another culture/language is so important to become a well-rounded and empathetic person.”