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Unconventional Curricula

Writer and physician Wes Fields ’76 helps student writers find their voices

Dr. Wes Fields ’76 arrived at UC Santa Barbara in pursuit of dual careers in literature and life sciences. He dreamed of a future as a physician-writer. The College of Creative Studies (CCS) allowed him to split time between pre-med courses and small tutorial writing classes. His mentor was the founding dean of CCS, Marvin Mudrick. This formative relationship inspired Wes to establish a Writer-in-Residence Endowment in memory of Professor Mudrick. His goal for a generous legacy gift is to help talented CCS students as well as the Writing & Literature program develop their identities.

“Wes’s generosity will positively impact future generations of CCS W&L students who will be able to interact directly with and learn from authors, writers, and other luminaries,” said Gerardo Aldana, dean of CCS. “This opportunity mirrors his own experience at CCS as a student, and we are grateful to him on behalf of future students.”

“No one at CCS ever told me what classes to take or asked me to choose one major over another,” said Wes. “CCS is unsurpassed in its ability to provide undergraduates access to faculty and resources that ordinarily are only available at the post-graduate level. The award-winning research, technologies and art produced by CCS students speak for themselves.”

Through an education that allowed him to understand humanity as an artist as well as a scientist, Wes learned how to combine his talents. Over his 40-year career in emergency medicine, he became an active participant in the narratives of more than 80,000 patients.

“Great writing turns on connections that others miss in the world around them,” said Wes. “For me, the clinical practice of emergency medicine is much the same.”

Protecting access to emergency care became an important part of his career. “It became clear to me that health policy wasn’t driven by data alone,” said Wes. “Health politics is largely about who controls the narrative. And nothing is more compelling for policy makers than the stories of real patients.”

In 2011, Wes co-developed the Emergency Medicine Action Fund — a platform for legal and regulatory advocacy for ER’s during the rule-writing phase of the Affordable Care Act. The process leveraged everything he learned about storytelling and science at CCS. Attending the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont reminded Wes of the power of faculty interactions with individual writers in small workgroups. He wanted to help the W&L program at CCS generate more energy of the kind he experienced with his own mentor.

“Ultimately, what I learned from Marvin had far more to do with what it meant to be a human being than the craft or technique of writing stories,” said Wes.