Profile with Susan Pepin

Susan Pepin (Oklahoma & St John’s 1987) is the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and Attending Ophthalmologist at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She is completing her MPH from The Dartmouth Institute, and has an MD from the University of California - San Francisco, a BA and MA in Philosophy, Psychology and Physiology from the University of Oxford and a BA in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University.

Rhodes Project: Where did you grow up?

Susan Pepin: I grew up in Connecticut and Oklahoma - my dad’s job brought us back and forth.

Rhodes Project: What kinds of music do you enjoy listening to?

Susan Pepin: I enjoy a breadth of music, but when I‘m by myself, I tend to enjoy classical music. My daughters keep modern music in my life which is what I listen to when I run.  If it has a good beat and it’s energizing, I enjoy it.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favorite childhood memory?

Susan Pepin: My parents hosted refugee families from Vietnam.  While at first challenging, creating a new, larger family added much to our lives. 

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in medicine?

Susan Pepin: When I was in high school, I took an anatomy class in which we dissected a mink. We had to label every muscle and minks have a lot of muscles. I enjoyed mastering the names but also the act of dissection.  Prior to that I thought a career in public service is what I might do. With medicine, I found I could combine that service to others with science, and the science came easily to me.

Rhodes Project: What is the best part of your job now?

Susan Pepin: I think the best part is when I can help a patient or a patient’s family gain insight about their illness. It may not be that they have gotten better. They might have devastating vision loss and they need understanding to work through it and to move forward so that they can create a future life where they can adapt and hopefully thrive. That’s one part of my clinical world. Another critical part for me is working with students. I am glad I don’t have to re-apply to medical school now, because the students are amazing in terms of their drive, ambition to help others and their creativity. It’s a privilege to mentor the next generation of physicians.  Also, I work on addressing healthcare disparities and gender equity, not just in healthcare but in academic medicine.

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Susan Pepin: The biggest challenge for me is trying not to take on too much. I have to remind myself that making small steps can lead to important changes. My work challenges include addressing the disparities in healthcare on the level of the future workforce in medicine -- looking at how we can increase the pool of qualified applicants to medical school, and the diversity of our faculty.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give a young woman interested in a career in medicine?

Susan Pepin: I would tell them to go for it.  There is no one correct route to a rewarding life in medicine. Traditionally, medicine as a career had seemingly fixed steps in the process of qualifying and advancing. You know that you have to get your medical degree, pass your board exams, complete a residency program and perhaps a fellowship; there are very defined hoops that you have to jump through. Within that framework it’s important to realize that you don’t know what you might come up against or where your personal life may take you. You could decide to have a family. I would advise her that she needs to be creative and not feel like she has to do it a particular way or have any real limits. She needs to have the confidence to look for other like-minded people and mentors that can help her navigate that. Don’t think, “I have to wait until I am done with my fellowship to have children,” if that’s something that you are interested in. To be creative in that sense would be my advice.

Rhodes Project: What do you like to relax?

Susan Pepin: I love poetry and reading broadly. The humanities add so much to life and I engage in reading and writing to maintain perspective. I enjoy hiking, skiing or watching a movie with my husband and five daughters.  Once we’re actually out the door it’s relaxing.

Rhodes Project: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where world you go and why?

Susan Pepin: At the moment it would be back to Oxford.  My daughter is studying there at the moment and hearing from her brings back so many wonderful memories.

Rhodes Project: Who inspires you?

Susan Pepin: That’s a nice question to reflect on- there are many people. The first person that comes to mind is my husband. He inspires me to do good in the world- and I knew it the first couple of weeks after I had met him. He is your genuine Rhodes Scholar, trying to fight the world’s fight, but he does it in a very quiet and modest way. And he is such a fabulous father! When I am less patient than I’d like to be, I look to him for my inspiration.  I am very fortunate.

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