Meet Wes Fields (CCS Literature '76)

September 27, 2018

Editor’s note: We are featuring stories from members of the CCS community. Some stories will be personal and others will be written in the third person. Check them out here and make sure to submit your own story here.

Wes Fields combined his studies in literature and life sciences at UCSB to strengthen his skills as a communicator and doctor

Wes Fields
Wes Fields

College of Creative Studies: How did you find out about the College?

Wes Fields: When I was a high school student in Santa Rosa, my sister Linda was living in Santa Barbara. As my college aspirations were centered on the University of California, UCSB was a logical and alluring choice. Linda’s husband, Chuck Folker, was an orthopedic surgeon and an important role model for me. 

Chuck happened to be the team physician for the football team at San Marcos High School. Chuck knew that being a writer was as important to me as becoming a doctor. He arranged for me to meet ‘a neat guy named Hank Pitcher,’ who had been a football player at San Marcos before going on to become one of the first students at the College of Creative Studies.  


CCS: Why did you choose to come to CCS? 

WF: I have vivid memories of meeting Hank for the first time on a soft spring day on campus while it was cold and wet in my hometown in Sonoma County. We must have been somewhere near the old student center, sitting in the shade of some eucalyptus trees near the lagoon. Hank could not have been more welcoming or encouraging in his soft-spoken way. 

To a small-town kid like me, if a fullback/linebacker could become an artist, then why couldn’t a writer become a doctor? At age 17, it was inspiring to think that such notions could be so matter of fact at CCS. 


CCS: What was your favorite aspect or professor or experience while at CCS?

WF: It’s hard for me to overstate the importance of Marvin Mudrick, the first CCS Provost, in my life. In hindsight, I don’t think many students understood the level of commitment and investment he had in us. He allowed me the opportunity to essentially live two lives as an undergraduate. One was spent in massive halls taking required courses for pre-medical students in the College of Letters and Science. The other was spent taking Mudrick’s writing course every quarter for more than four years. Yet, I never bothered to declare a major in biology that I qualified for by the time I graduated. And, in all honesty, Mudrick never mentioned whether I should be taking on the more orthodox curriculum of other serious CCS students in the Literature program.

My experiences as one of Mudrick’s students can be divided into two categories — the way it felt to be in one of his classes, and the way it felt to sit with him in his office. In his element — a classroom filled with devoted students and occasional visitors — Mudrick was a one-man show featuring the works of Austen, Chaucer, Johnson, Spinoza, and the Marx Brothers, with special appearances by Mozart, Verdi, and Balanchine. Being in his office was more like spending time with an uncle or a godfather than it was like an appointment with a professor. I don’t remember a single word he ever said to me that could be construed as critical or negative. 

Ultimately, what I learned from writing short stories had far more to do with learning what it meant to be a human being than the craft or technique.

Ultimately, what I learned from writing short stories had far more to do with learning what it meant to be a human being than the craft or technique.


CCS: If you attended graduate school, where and what did you study as a graduate student?  

WF: I attended the Keck School of Medicine at USC, graduating in 1980. After an internship in family medicine at UCLA/Harbor General Hospital, I completed my residency training in emergency medicine at Harbor in 1983. [Fun fact: fans of the television show ‘Emergency!’ will recognize Harbor as the backdrop for Rampart General Hospital.]


CCS: How did your CCS education help you excel as a graduate student? 

WF: CCS tested the radical concept that undergraduate students should be as important as the faculty who taught them. CCS students were encouraged to find their own north star and follow it. My progress as an observer of the human condition was enhanced by my interest in life sciences, which were more intuitive for me than math or physics. 

The entire vocabulary of genetics could be expressed as unique sequences of four nucleic acids. Homeostasis and disorder were both revealed in the interactions between individual cells and the systems they comprised. The survival of species was directly related to their ability to adapt to changes in their environment. 

Learning how to learn at CCS turned out to be massively important to me throughout my medical career. My first two years of basic medical science at USC felt like learning a series of new languages. And the two years of clinical clerkships that followed seemed like incredible privilege, opportunities to enter the lives of real patients with real conditions. Learning how to understand the patterns of history, physical findings, and clinical data allowed me to identify and answer the most important questions I needed to address as their physician.  

Learning how to learn at CCS turned out to be massively important to me throughout my medical career.


CCS: Describe your career, profession, job. Does it relate to what you studied at CCS? If so, how?  

WF: Over the course of nearly 40 years in emergency medicine, I had to establish the personal narratives of more than 80,000 human beings. One of the things I feel most strongly about as a writer and a doctor is that the most important communication is non-verbal. My senses became the basis for my professional sensibility. Because so much of what I needed to do was also time sensitive, it was important that I began to take in as much information as I could as soon as I entered a patient’s room. What I could observe was more important than anything I could ask. What I could express was more important than what I could say.

Neuroscience suggests that cognition is largely a matter of pattern recognition, an incredibly nuanced interaction between memory, mood, and social context as well as bias. Great writing turns on connections that others miss in the world around them. For me, the clinical practice of emergency medicine is much the same.