Sunday, September 18, 2016

With Summer winding down, we are proud to begin our GEMS Alumni Spotlight once again. This month we are pleased to highlight Dr. Katherine Potter, current Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UofL & the Pediatric Critical Care Medicine Fellowship Director. Dr. Potter works in Pediatric Care Medicine at Kosair Children’s Hospital and graduated from UofL in 1997 with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology. Following undergrad, she stayed in the city of Louisville for medical school, residency, and fellowship. At her core, she is true Louisvillian.

            Dr. Potter remembers that one instance, which so many physicians experience at some point in their lives, when she knew that she wanted to pursue medicine. Science has always intrigued Dr. Potter and it was in the 7th grade when she had her “moment.” “My dad, a commercial banker, had a customer who was a butcher. After clearing it with my teacher, the butcher gave [her father] a cow’s heart to take to school when we were learning about the circulatory system. I took it to school on the bus – and it was heavy!” After thawing it for three days, the class was finally able to crowd around the heart and see first hand a heart and all its valves and chambers. While a simple day for other students, Dr. Potter still remembers the feeling of crowding around something so complex and learning how the organ worked. When Dr. Potter became a GEMS Scholar, she knew she had made the right choice of pursuing medicine.

            When matriculating from undergrad to medical school, Dr. Potter knew she wanted to stay a Cardinal. Dr. Potter realized that “medical school would be one of the most challenging task that [she] would tackle. UofL is a great school and had the added advantage of being near my family and support system.” The GEMS program helped her to explore the medical world that Louisville, and UofL School of Medicine, had to offer. That is not to say challenges didn’t exist; Dr. Potter remembers in medical school the one thing you have to learn is “survival training.” You are required to learn a massive amount of information, how to work in a team, and how to lead; this can be intimidating and challenging. However, it is all worth it as being a physician is one of the most rewarding careers and as Dr. Potter stated, “Looking back, it was a great adventure, and I’m so glad I did it.”

            Even today, medicine still teaches Dr. Potter many valuable life lessons that last with you as a person. She recalls that medicine taught her how to maintain compassion and kindness in all situations. When asked what is the most exciting part about her job today, she stated, “Everyday is different… the variety of diagnoses, the different procedures, the families.” All of these things made the challenge of medical school and residency worth it. Medicine is more than just diagnosing someone, at its foundation lies treating a person with compassion, respect, empathy, and support. Medicine is equal parts science with humanities. It is the crossover that makes pursing medicine the rewarding and exciting career it has become.

            That is Dr. Potter’s story; I ask you, what is yours? The application for the GEMS Program, and other UofL Scholarships, are now open and the deadline is December 15th. The GEMS program gives you a first-hand look at the breadth of medicine, from observations in the ER, Labor & Delivery, Surgery, and more to seminars on humanism in medicine to suture clinics and SimLabs, the experience you gain as a GEMS scholar is unparalleled. I urge you all to take the time to decide if medicine is your calling and apply for this wonderful opportunity.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

This month we are proud to highlight Dr. Mahendra Damarla with our GEMS Alumni Spotlight. Dr. Damarla is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Damarla was a part of the GEMS Class of 1993 before earning his medical degree at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. After completing his residency in Internal Medicine he moved to Baltimore, where he has lived since 2005, to complete his fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Damarla has long been drawn to medicine since a very young age. Around the age of 7, he hurt his leg and was checked into Boston Children’s Hospital. They were able to calm “this wailing, crying kid; they were able to make it better.” It was in this solidifying moment that he began his path to medicine. While he knew that medicine was the career he hoped to leave his mark, the specifics often changed. It is said that all medical students experience a moment where everything clicks.  For Dr. Damarla this came during a MICU rotation; he discovered that the “high acuity, pathophysiology and problem solving” atmosphere of the ICU perfectly combined the “coolest parts of medicine,” and was where he belonged.

Dr. Damarla brings a new perspective to the GEMS Alumni Spotlight Blog. As a physician-scientist, he spends on average 70 percent of his time conducting research and the other 30 percent is focused on patient care. It is this diversity that he labels as the best part of his job. Dr. Damarla’s lab focus is on Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which focuses essentially on the “why and how blood vessels become leaky in the lungs.” When asked what advice he gives to students contemplating research in college, he urges, “You have to be willing to go all in and explore it.” Pre-medical students today have countless opportunities to explore research in college. Unlike the time that Dr. Damarla was at UofL, research is now promoted and encouraged. From summer programs to working in professors’ labs during the semester, the University of Louisville is focused on providing opportunities for students to dive into and explore the world of research while broadening his or her interests.

GEMS has ever evolved since Dr. Damarla’s Class of 1993, however many things have remained consistent. One of the best, and not always advertised, benefits of the GEMS program is the relationship formed with the School of Medicine Admissions Staff. Dr. Damarla highlights this support that truly helps keep scholars “on the straight and narrow. Pam Osborne, Jennifer Coffey, and Kim Holsclaw really helped to watch over me and shepherd me through college and the first few years of medical school.” The opportunity to build these relationships with a staff that truly cares about its scholars is an amazing advantage. UofL is a school whose focus is its students. GEMS, as Dr. Damarla states, is the “mechanism to explore your interest.”

Dr. Damarla encourages all students considering medicine and really any career to be “willing to go all in. You have to be wiling to completely immerse yourself. You have to be willing to be the dumbest person in the room, to stay up all night to study or to see patients but above all you just have to be wiling to jump in.” Whether that is working in a research lab to staying in the library the night before an exam, medicine is something that requires a sense of enthusiasm to dive headfirst. We are proud to highlight Dr. Damarla with our GEMS Alumni Spotlight. We cannot wait to see all of the accomplishments that he continues to make at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and wish him luck in any endeavors.