Judy and I traveled a lot together. Now there’s going to be a nursing scholarship in our name that keeps the spirit of service alive.
The careers of Conrad Schmitt, ’74 BA, ’76 MA, Psychology, and his late wife, Judy, ’77 BS Nursing, took them from California to Texas to Ghana to Germany to Kenya with several stops in between. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the couple felt compelled to reevaluate how and where they could best contribute to a changed world. Previously a private-practice psychiatrist, Conrad was sworn in as a U.S. State Department psychiatrist in 2004 and served overseas until he retired in 2011. Beginning in 2017, a Valley Foundation School of Nursing scholarship in their name will help single-parent nursing students obtain their degrees. Conrad shares his story here.
I grew up in a Catholic family and went to seminary at age 13 with the intention of becoming a missionary priest. But after two years, I realized I no longer had the calling to become a priest. The first time I was enrolled at SJSU, I was in the humanities program. But in my third semester, I quit going to class and in October 1966 joined the Navy. After boot camp, I served on a spy ship in Vietnam. And after Vietnam, I qualified to be part of the submarine force.
After leaving the military in 1970, I returned to college, a much more motivated student. While studying psychology at SJSU, I decided I wanted to go to med school. It was a terrible time to apply to med schools, one of the highest periods of applicants in American history. My psychology professor, Jim Hawkins, said: “Just in case you don’t get into med school, apply to grad school here.” Which I did. And that was when I met Judy.
Long story short, I eventually did get my medical degree from Texas A&M (after earning a PhD in science education from the University of Texas at Austin). And along the way, I concluded there are two kinds of physicians: surgeons and people who manage illness. Surgeons believe they cut it out and it’s done. The rest of us manage illnesses. After my psychiatric rotation as a resident, I finally knew: this is it! I love psychiatry. It’s a profession that involves a lot of nuance and art, as opposed to medicine—which is a lot of numbers.
My wife and I both came from modest backgrounds. I did work-study at San Jose State. But I’ve also been lucky. I’ve had lots of opportunities. And I want someone else to have those opportunities. People deserve to achieve all that they can. What makes your life better is the satisfaction of what you’ve accomplished—the toil and effort. To me, that’s what is important.
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