Theology and pre-health alumna finds true calling—transforming lives affected by cancer

Author: Eileen Lynch

Kim LisiakKim Lisiak

As Kim Lisiak ’13 approached the diving platform, the noises of the crowded aquatic center took on a distant quality.

The powerful arms slicing through water, the cheers, the buzzers, and the whistles receded. The world in her head went silent, too, knowing that muscle memory would take over.

Then, in a rush, she jumped, twisted, flipped, and—in less than a second—hit the water, tucking neatly to minimize the splash.

Lisiak, a varsity diver, came to Notre Dame ready to balance athletics and academics, on the path to pursuing a career in sports medicine.

But the twists make the dive.

While Lisiak enjoyed her math and science coursework, she soon felt that something was missing.

“The classes were so technical in nature that I was missing this other creative component of myself,” she said. “I had found a way to make my life at Notre Dame well-rounded in other aspects, and I realized I was looking for that in my major as well.”

Lisiak found that missing piece while taking a required first-year theology class.

An unexpected spark

After that first course, Lisiak found she was able to explain her faith in a way she had never been able to before.

A second class on St. Joseph solidified her passion for Catholic theology and made her take a hard look at her academic path.

“This hadn’t even been on my radar. I was planning on going to medical school and studying pediatric sports medicine. I had my whole life planned out,” she said. “But I realized I enjoy studying this subject far more than I enjoyed studying anything before.”

Lisiak switched her majors to theology and Arts and Letters pre-health and began exploring a new question—how to help people in a way that would have as great an impact as being a doctor.

“This is the kind of person I want to be—a leader in the world who is working to transform lives.”

A new mission

After graduation, Lisiak entered the Management Fellowship program at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).

As one of just six fellows—chosen from thousands of applicants—in the two-year advanced leadership development program, she and her colleagues rotated every few months, working in every department of the organization in order to get a comprehensive understanding of the business.

Today, she is chief of staff to the CEO of CTCA and finds the company’s mission to provide innovative, compassionate care a perfect fit.

“This is the kind of person I want to be—a leader in the world who is working to transform lives,” she said.

A winning combination

Lisiak uses her liberal arts background every day as she manages the CEO’s strategic initiative portfolio, implements new programs, and creates board content.

“Health care administration requires knowledge from both my theology and Arts and Letters pre-health majors,” she said. “It’s important to understand the psychology of business—how people work, how people think, how we can problem-solve in a way that best fits everyone. And that’s where my theology major fits in perfectly. It allows me to step back and see the bigger picture, the purpose to why we’re all here.

“My work also requires concise and effective communication and writing. Were it not for my honors thesis and the numerous papers I completed, I would not be the confident writer I am today. ”

She attributes her success at CTCA to the combination of skills she learned in her pursuits at Notre Dame—both athletic and academic.

“Diving teaches patience, concentration, and perseverance,” Lisiak said, “but theology gave me the ability to critically think about my purpose on this planet.”

Originally published by Eileen Lynch at al.nd.edu on February 15, 2017.