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.