History Major to Holistic Healer
As an undergraduate history major at Yale, John Stracks took only one science class: Introduction to Chemistry. “It never crossed my mind that I might want a career in medicine,” says Stracks, now a physician at Northwestern’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and assistant professor of clinical family and community medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
Instead, Stracks became a social worker after college, running programs at a Chicago youth center for two years, followed by four years at Hull House, where he helped teenagers transition from group homes or foster care into independent living. “It was satisfying work, but I wanted to do more,” says Stracks. He considered earning a master’s degree in social work or an MBA, but once the idea of becoming a doctor began to resonate, he took a class in human physiology in SPS’s premedicine program.
“I thought I’d either love it and continue, or hate it and move on to something else,” says Stracks. After his second course, he was hooked for good. He rearranged his life, leaving Hull House to work part-time in a clinic and later taking a job as a cancer researcher at the University of Chicago.
In 2001 — a decade after graduating from college and a decade richer in life experience — Stracks enrolled in the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “Having been out in the world made a huge difference in how I handled medical school,” says Stracks. “At Northwestern I had learned how to manage my time. I didn’t pull any all-nighters. I knew what was relevant.”
During his residency and subsequent yearlong fellowship at the University of Michigan Health System, he gained the attention of Northwestern’s integrative medicine department. And in 2009 Stracks joined the team at the Osher Center, where his clinical interests include thyroid disorders, menopause symptoms, depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, and pain management. He treats patients using mind-body, social, and spiritual approaches.
What does the history major say about his educational path? “I don’t remember all of my professors from Yale,” says Stracks, “but all of my SPS premedicine professors —
I remember them fondly.”
— Leanne Star