2022 Student Essay Contest: Grades 9-12 Honorable Mention

“Math is saving lives: Dr. Aalya Crowl’s take on why math matters”

by: Margaret Ripsteen (The Head Royce School)

Interviewee: Aalya Crowl (Virginia Cardiovascular Specialists)

In almost every class I have taken in my schooling career, I have found myself fixating on one question: How will I use this in my life in the future? I have sat through countless math classes, specifically, analyzing the practicality of trigonometry, special triangles, and the power rule, but never seemed to find an answer. That is, until a recent conversation with Virginia-based cardiologist, Aalya Crowl. 

Dr. Crowl opened my eyes to the importance and value of math, and how impactful it can be in helping those around us. At a young age, Crowl naturally gravitated towards and excelled in math courses, which made her decision to pursue math in college a no-brainer. She flew through her courses at Duke University, and decided to turn her love for math into a lifelong career in the medical field. After years of dedicated work studying at the University of Virginia’s medical school, as well as various residencies and fellowships, she landed on the field of cardiology. 

In our conversation, Crowl noted that her job as a cardiologist consists of three main subcategories that she works in on a daily basis: preventative medicine, ongoing treatment of cardiac diseases, and noninvasive imaging. Though she originally started her work as a cardiologist in the hospital, she has now primarily transitioned to the outpatient setting, but is thankful for her ongoing experience in both settings. She explained that a typical day in the office ranges anywhere from regular patient checkups, to cardiac imaging appointments, to standard procedures that do not require hospital visits. 

Another aspect of her typical day? Math. When asked how she uses math in her profession, she chuckled and responded, “in short, all the time.” She elaborated that on a basic level, she uses simple math (quick addition and subtraction) to prescribe medicinal dosages or to calculate a patient’s BMI (body mass index). In a more advanced sense, she uses sophisticated calculations, specifically when dealing with the physiology of cardiology. 

She explained that the bulk of physiology in cardiology is understanding how the heart pumps blood. She noted that geometry and calculus come in handy when calculating the rate at which blood is pumping in and out of the heart. More specifically, she uses calculus to calculate the rate at which the aortic valve, the main valve that pumps blood into the body on the left heart, is opening for patients who struggle with valvular heart disease. Aortic stenosis is one of the most common forms of valvular heart disease, and occurs when the aortic valve becomes narrow and slows the rate at which blood flows into the body. Crowl described that the way most cardiologists go about treating aortic stenosis is by calculating the velocity at which the blood is flowing, in order to calculate the area of the valve. She said this is certainly one of the more challenging calculations, but with so much practice over the years, she has become quite efficient and skilled at it. 

Clearly, Crowl’s work with math is not only impressive, but also lifesaving. She is extremely passionate about both her work and math, itself, saying that “math is one of the most useful classes I have taken in my life. From high school to college to now.” She stressed the importance of math in daily life too, expressing that regardless of profession, math is all around us whether we know it or not. She continued to bring up examples of budgeting, shopping, and doing taxes, all of which she claimed are essential to adult life. As if her previous points about physically saving lives had not made it clear to me yet, these extra examples really brought home to me the importance of math. 

Before Dr. Crowl and I spoke, I could have pointed to a few professions that use math on a daily basis. Now, Dr. Crowl has helped me realize that math is not just a series of tests, worksheets, and study sessions; rather, it is a vital discipline that has the power to promote financial responsibility, help us manage our time, and ultimately, save lives.