Penn Student-Athlete Arabella Uhry Explores the Financial Side of Health Care
At 7 years old, Arabella Uhry, now a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, developed a relationship that sparked her interest in health care. Through an online group for parents who adopted children from China, Uhry’s mother discovered that a girl exactly Uhry’s age, adopted around the same time and from an orphanage just five miles from the one from which Uhry was adopted, was dying from diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. These brain tumors are uniformly fatal.
Uhry began writing to her, even when the little girl got too sick to write back. When the girl died, on her eighth birthday, Uhry decided to fight against disease in the way she could at the time: by reaching out, writing to and befriending other children befallen with serious illness.
These relationships, which eventually numbered more than 100 and earned Uhry the New York Liberty Medal, were her first introduction to the health-care system and proved an inspiring one. Now a pre-med student majoring in health and societies, or HSOC, with a concentration in health-care markets and financing, she’s taking a bigger picture approach to medicine while satisfying her diverse interests in history, business, economics and health.
In high school, Uhry sought out opportunities to engage in the scientific side. She worked in a laboratory focused on Alzheimer’s disease at Mount Sinai Hospital then spent the next few years working in another lab that studied the effects of chemotherapy on the brain.
“It was fascinating,” she says, “but I also realized that research wasn’t necessarily for me. I was interested in aspects that were more people-oriented.”
She saw a good fit for herself at Penn, where there was flexibility to take courses across schools alongside her pre-med curriculum. A comparative-medicine course taught by Projit Mukharji, assistant professor of history and sociology of science in the School of Arts & Sciences, that Uhry took her freshman year, set her mind on the major.
“The course itself was very interesting, and as I looked more into the department there were so many classes that were unique,” she says. “I felt like the HSOC program fosters many interests because you can take it in any direction that you want.”
Since then, she’s explored many facets of the health-care system through her coursework. She especially enjoyed a class last semester on the Affordable Care Act, taught by one of its architects, Ezekiel Emanuel, Penn’s vice provost for global initiatives and a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor.
“It’s interesting to take a class that is so timely,” she says. “It’s taught differently every semester as different elements of the program roll out and are implemented.”
In addition to shadowing a neurosurgeon and a plastic surgeon to get a firsthand look at the medical field, she’s bolstered her understanding of the financial system through summer jobs at a health-care focused private-equity firm and most recently at a hedge fund.
“The financial jobs have been fascinating,” she says. “I’ve always loved puzzles, and trading is like a puzzle. You have to see the numbers, figure out what they’re saying and find the opportunities.”
The appeal of a “thinking game” is also what drew Uhry to her primary athletic pursuit, fencing. She first got introduced to the sport in first grade and began balancing it with playing on a boys’ soccer team. She fully devoted herself to fencing a few years later, competing in foil and later saber.
“I switched to saber when I was 14 or 15, and I love it,” she says. “It’s both a mental and physical game. You can beat your opponent by brute force for sure, but I’m not the one with the brute force, so you have to outsmart your opponent.”
Uhry says being a scholar-athlete has given her a good sense of time management. Between classes, practices and competitions, she still finds time to go to campus events, take photographs for The Daily Pennsylanian and hold a campus job at the Red and Blue Call Center. She’s also exploring her personal heritage through a minor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations and participation in the Penn Taiwanese Society.
She plans on pursuing a medical degree, likely with a gap year to wrap up her pre-med requirements, but says she’s trying to follow her interests and continue her academic exploration.
“I’m trying to create a balanced education for myself,” she says. “Right now, I’m open to all options because I think it’s all interesting.”