It was a bit of a circuitous route, but Miriam Vos ’92 achieved a childhood goal to be in research.
“My folks found a newspaper clipping from the local paper that quoted me—at the age of 10 or 11—that I wanted to be a research scientist, and I would play the violin to help pay for the research,” she said.
That early goal didn’t seem attainable, even as she began a pre-med program at Calvin.
“It is so ironic because of what I do now, but I was not good at chemistry in college and was advised to switch out of my program. I moved to philosophy, with an English minor,” said Vos.
After graduating from Calvin and working in Oregon for a couple of years, the nudge to go back to her original idea of medicine returned. She took organic chemistry again, aced it and went on to medical school at the University of Louisville.
“I see all of this as a blessing, because I obviously wasn’t ready for the coursework before. Now I was motivated; I had made a concrete decision,” she said.
And she doesn’t regret her Calvin philosophy degree.
“Philosophy is about thinking carefully, and that’s very important in what I do,” said Vos. “In fact, that’s more important than remembering a specific chemical reaction. A sound thinking process is one of the many things that make a good doctor.”
Vos did a summer internship in medical school with a virologist working on the causes of fetal birth defects and in that process was drawn to research as well as medicine.
Today, she is a pediatric hepatologist and a research director at Emory University in Atlanta. Her area of expertise is researching the causes of and helping children with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
In her clinical work, she treats children with NAFLD and children with other liver diseases in pre- and post-liver transplant situations.
“Unfortunately, we don’t yet have medicines or obvious cures for many liver diseases,” said Vos. “When the liver gets very sick, we have to talk about transplant. The lack of medications for liver diseases is a frustrating part of my job.”
Her frustration leads to the large amount of time she spends on research, trying to find the root causes of liver disease—catching symptoms early in children to prevent major liver issues later in life.
The research Vos does leads into childhood obesity and the ways in which nutrition and exercise habits developed at an early age can prevent serious liver problems. She helps direct the Strong4Life Clinic to help kids improve in these areas and thus improve the likelihood of a healthy adult life.
“Much of this may seem obvious, but when our families follow through with more vegetables in the diet, cutting down on sugar, limiting time with TV and devices, and instead exercise and play outdoors, there’s a definite health improvement,” she said.
“If habits change for the better, I can see the difference as the children walk down the hallway,” she said. “They are in balance, they fit in their bodies better, they simply look better.”
Vos has written a book on the subject titled The No-Diet Obesity Solution for Kids (easily located on Amazon). And she’s optimistic that progress is being made.
She is on the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, which seeks to give families health guidance on the national level.
“We are focusing on childhood, helping kids grow up healthier,” she said. “It is rewarding to have a part in influencing patterns nationally. And we are seeing improvements: a decline in the amount of sugar kids eat, average body weight decline and increases in active play.”
She is grateful for the journey that brought her from a childhood dream to real work of significance and joy.
“Some have a nice, neat path to their career,” said Vos. “I had to go on a side path. But I learned a lot, grew up a little more and wound up with something even better than I had hoped.”