From HBO/Showtime production to UW Health doctor; how witnessing 9/11 changed her life

"Like every New Yorker, it's a day that I will never forget": After witnessing the attacks, one local doctor said she couldn't go back to making movies.
Dr. Lisa Arkin

MADISON, Wis. — Dr. Lisa Arkin, the Director of Pediatric Dermatology at UW School of Medicine, says working with children and their families is what she was put on this earth to do. A career she only discovered after the terrorist attacks in NYC on September 11, 2001.

At the time of the attacks, Arkin was working as a story editor for HBO and then Showtime. But on 9/11, she was called in for jury duty.

Arkin said it was “the first time I’d ever had jury duty as a college graduate.”

On her way to Tribeca for her first day of jury duty, Arkin was on the subway headed in the direction of the World Trade Center when the subway stalled underground for an hour. The attacks on the twin towers were happening above ground.

“I can’t believe it’s 20 years ago because it still feels like yesterday,” Arkin said.

When she finally got off the subway, Arkin “saw things that I still shudder to think about and I walked miles up town smelling the smoke of death and devastation.”

Nearly 3,000 people died from the terrorist attacks.

“Like every New Yorker, it’s a day that I will never forget,” Arkin said.

While working for HBO/Showtime, Arkin was also volunteering at a children’s hospital after work. She took actors to see the kids to make them feel better and bring joy as they were fighting an incurable disease at the time.

“I had started volunteering with children with cystic fibrosis at a hospital downtown which was the biggest cystic fibrosis center in New York,” she said.

After witnessing the attacks, Arkin said she couldn’t go back to making movies.

“This acute sense of complete loss of control. A complete sense of powerlessness. I had this sense that if only I had been a doctor, had this defined skill set, I would have had more to give.”

Arkin said her work with children felt more meaningful after witnessing such tragedy. She wanted to be able to help and not feel so helpless ever again.

“I called my dad and said, ‘I have good news and I have bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?’ He said ,’ Good news, good news please.’ I said, ‘Well I just got promoted, so that’s a good thing,’ and he said ,’Well that’s good!’ What’s the bad news?’ I said, ‘I think I’m going to quit my job and go to medical school.'”

Arkin did just that. She’s now been working with children and their families at UW Health for the past five years.

“Here I am 20 years later and I’ve never looked back,” she said. “I feel like medicine is the greatest profession. I know this is the field I was meant to do all along. I was meant to be a pediatric specialist. I was meant to take care of kids and families.”

Although it took a tragedy for her to realize, Arkin said she’s glad she found her life’s true calling. Getting to help people every day. Never forgetting, but never letting herself feel helpless again.

“I think when you feel inspired following your dream and your passion,” Arkin said, “there is no end to what we can do.”