Neurosurgeon’s life story inspires students

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Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at John’s Hopkins, said he rose out of poverty and became a renowned neurosurgeon through faith in God and himself. Natural Sciences Career Services and Health Professions Advising sponsored Carson’s lecture Wednesday, which 750 people attended. The Dr. Joe Thorne Gilbert Centennial Lectureship in Health Professions funded the talk. Carson’s background could inspire all students, not just those interested in health professions, said Ray Easterlin, the director of Natural Sciences Career Services. “He’s an example of someone who did not have advantages at an early age but worked hard and had family support,” Easterlin said. Carson said he lived in a poor tenement in Detroit during his youth, in an area threatened by gangs. He was called “dummy” by his elementary school classmates, but his academic performance changed when his illiterate mother began making him turn in two book reports a week. He recalled how he felt when he knew an answer in class because of a book he had read about rocks. “It was such an exhilarating feeling to know things that no one else knew, especially from people who had been calling me names,” he said. Carson said he did very poorly on his first set of comprehensive exams as a medical school student and was advised to drop out. He improved after taking courses that relied more on reading than lecture material. “You have to learn how you learn, because everyone learns differently,” he said. Carson led the first medical team to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head in 1987. He said he gives deep consideration to all elements of risky surgeries, especially when he is breaking new medical ground. “Never go off half-cocked,” he said. “Make sure you study what everyone else has done, even if it wasn’t successful.” Carson said his faith informed his daily practice. “I always pray, ask God for wisdom whenever I enter the operating room,” he said. “When it comes to the brain and spinal cord, there’s nothing that’s simple.” Carson said the U.S. needs to improve early math and science education to succeed in the technological age. He also said his life is proof that anyone can succeed. “As a fifth grader, I was a terrible student, and as a seventh grader, I was a terrific student,” he said. “What does that tell you about human potential?” Microbiology senior Simone White said Carson inspires her because she also came from a low socioeconomic background and single-parent household and wants to be a doctor. “To see the metamorphosis of someone who was called ‘dummy’ to one of the most brilliant people on Earth is amazing,” White said.