College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Philosophy Major Heads to Medical School

University of Mississippi 2010 graduate Ryan Speights combined pre-med requirements with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, gained early entrance to medical school and is on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a primary-care physician.

A member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the Hattiesburg native established a solid reputation during his academic career in the College of Liberal Arts.

“Maybe the first thing to say about Ryan is that he’s an adventurous student,” said Robert Westmoreland, associate professor of philosophy and religion. “He takes courses on topics he thinks are important and interesting, not the surest route to a high GPA and a tough thing for a pre-med student to do, given the importance of GPA in medical school admission.

“Beyond that, Ryan is very serious without taking himself too seriously. In the course Biomedical Ethics, for example, he was intensely interested in the issues; it wasn’t just an academic exercise to him. I could tell he cared a lot about problems he might face as a physician, but he doesn’t have a self-important bone in his body.”

While fairly certain as a teenager that he would pursue a career in medicine, Speights participated in one-on-one debate in high-school forensics, which required him to have some knowledge of legal/ethical philosophy, and that exposure spurred his interest in the liberal arts.

“I majored in philosophy in order to acquire sharp critical-thinking skills that would be broadly applicable throughout my life,” he said.

Initially influenced by his parents’ careers in the medical field,  Speights said his inspiration for serving others really took flight during a summer 2008 mission trip to Greeley, Colo., where he ministered to low-income families by providing them with food and clothing and forming backyard Bible clubs.

“We were able to give their children an encouraging atmosphere away from the gang- and drug-infested environment in which they live,” he said. “I brought the things that I learned there home to Oxford and started a similar children’s ministry that continues today.”

The following summer, Speights shadowed physicians in several departments of the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

“There, I felt the burden that I am needed in primary care,” he said. “I synthesized these experiences to learn that I am sensitive to the physical needs of the people in my community, and that I’d be most happy bringing them peace through good health.”

While at UM, Speights held the prestigious Louis Pojman Memorial Council Scholarship in philosophy and the L.O. and Verna Crosby Endowed Scholarship.

“We were happy to have Ryan as the first recipient of the Louis Pojman Memorial Scholarship,” said William F. Lawhead, chair and professor of philosophy and religion.  “The donors were delighted with our choice, for Ryan exemplifies all the traits we were looking for, which are intellectual and academic excellence, moral sensitivity and a sense of service.”

Speights also was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi, the university’s highest overall academic honorary, and Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization in the liberal arts. In forensics during his freshman year, he was the team’s most decorated competitor, multiple qualifier to the National Forensics Association Tournament and Freshman of the Year.

His other service included tutoring children in Oxford’s Leap Frog program, organizing debate tournaments for UM’s Lott Leadership Institute and volunteering at Graceland Care Center of Oxford and Forrest General Hospital.

“My Ole Miss experience was truly amazing,” he said. “I made friendships that have been constructive in shaping the person I am today, and I was pushed to succeed in the classroom and return service to my community. I learned to embrace different perspectives and at the same time cherish tradition. Given the campus, even walking to class was beautifully inspiring.”