Meet Alumna Mariah Robertson, MD, MPH: Chief Resident of Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins University

A career in internal medicine with a specialty in geriatrics comes naturally for Mariah (Dreisinger) Robertson, MD, MPH, ’05 ΚΑΘ. The Chief Resident in the Department of Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, says her interest in geriatric medicine increased after her grandmother and mother both developed Alzheimer’s disease.

“There were so many things about the way both of these women lived and died, that I wanted to honor them by taking care of patients like them,” Robertson explains.

In addition to her interest in the older population, Robertson says her biology degree from Westminster College made her the physician she is today. The Jefferson City, MO, native says Westminster taught her to think big and ask questions.

“That is fundamental to the practice of medicine and is what I think has led me to be a leader within my residency program and beyond,” Robertson says. “At Westminster, I was never told that I couldn’t do something or learn something or be something — I was just encouraged to do my very best and work really, really hard.”

And working really hard is paying off. Robertson will begin a fellowship in geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins in July. The fellowship follows a degree in medicine from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2014. Robertson also earned a master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in epidemiology and behavioral health in 2008 from St. Louis University in St. Louis, MO.

Robertson says Westminster not only influences her approach to medicine, but it kick-started her drive to earn an MPH. “The liberal arts education made me well rounded and honestly was what pushed me to explore and pursue public health before I ever went to medical school,” she says.

Robertson adds that although her undergraduate degree helped her find the power in purpose, her graduate degrees are rounding out who she will be for the rest of her life. “For me, helping someone live out the end of their life with dignity and function is the greatest gift,” Robertson explains. “I will never regret my decision to be in school for so long, because I feel like I am fulfilling my calling.”

Read further to learn more about Robertson and her love of medicine, basketball, and people of all ages, from the very old to the very young (her two boys).

Do you enjoy what you do? I love everything about what I do. Internal medicine is so challenging and rewarding, and geriatric medicine just takes it to the next level. Every day I am navigating uncharted waters and caring for the most vulnerable of patients. My favorite part is getting to know my patients and getting to be their primary care doctor. They become like family to me. I am there with them for their triumphs. For example, I saw my 71-year-old patient today who just had surgery to remove an invasive breast cancer, and she appears to be cancer free. I was able to hug her and celebrate this amazing victory! I also recently went to the funeral of my 90-year-old Cuban patient who passed away from respiratory failure. I spent time talking with her family, remembering her, and looking through old photos and crying with her son, who had dedicated his entire life to her health and well-being. It is such an honor to share in the lives and stories of these people who have so much perspective and so much wisdom. I am humbled daily by my good fortune.

What advice would you give to Westminster students who are interested in pursuing a degree in medicine? Don’t be jaded by the older physicians who may tell you the field is changing in a negative way. I disagree completely. Sure, it is increasingly difficult to practice medicine for some reasons, but it is also increasingly rewarding for many, many more reasons. The field of medicine and the doctors coming out of medical school are more diverse than ever before. There are more women and people of color who are excelling in medicine. I look around me and am so impressed and humbled by the caliber of people who are becoming doctors. It gives me hope for the future of medicine. There is so much need in the world right now … so many patients that are in need of medical care, particularly primary care. We must have compassionate, passionate, and thoughtful healers in the field, and I know that Westminster is a place that fosters those traits in its students. There is NOTHING you can’t do. If a girl from small town mid-Missouri can end up at Johns Hopkins in the Department of Medicine, you can too, and I challenge you to try and never ever give up.

What organizations outside of work are you involved in? I work with an organization called Medicine for the Greater Good, which provides outreach and support to the community and to faith-based community groups in Baltimore. It allows me to see the impact of my work on a community level and also lets me foster some of the public health training.

What is your favorite Westminster memory? Playing basketball with my very best friends. The tough practices. The games. The bus rides. The after-game parties at our houses. It was all so memorable and special. I loved how much we laughed and how close we became through the love of the game and the near-constant contact with each other throughout the year. I am still on a text stream with my teammates. They are my rocks through difficult times. In fact, the three women that were seniors with me on the team were the bridesmaids in my wedding. We have been through thick and thin together, and it all stems from our time at Westminster.

Who are your favorite Westminster faculty members? Dr. Michael Amspoker, hands down. Dr. Doug Fickess was a close second, and I am so sad to hear of his passing.

What is your favorite spot on campus? The old Westminster gym.

Which of your achievements are you most proud of? I am most proud of my ability to persist. There isn’t one major achievement that I feel I have knocked out of the park. It is the small and large obstacles that have come up and that I have pushed through by putting my head down and just marching forward, one step at a time. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. All that said, I can only take credit for the birth part — my husband plays a huge role in the rest of it — I am most proud of my two sons who are the absolute joys of our life and make us so excited for the future every day.

Spouse? Daniel Robertson: orthopedic surgeon, shoulder and elbow specialist. 

Children? Coen Robertson (age 4) and Arno Robertson (age 2).

A book you would recommend to others? Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown.

What do you do in your free time? Work out (we love to do power lifting and interval training), experience live music (we try to see a show every two weeks), spend time with my incredible husband, try out new restaurants, and mostly just enjoy the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of my boys, who have the greatest perspective.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.