James Duehr

James Duehr, Class of 2023

HOMETOWN:
Normal (Yes it's really called that!), Illinois

UNDERGRADUATE INSTITUTION:
University of Chicago; BA Biological Sciences

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO ATTEND PITT MEDICINE:
I chose PittMed most of all because of the excellent clinical training. UPMC casts a very wide net as a quaternary referral center, so I've been able to see more diverse and complex cases than I would have been able to almost anywhere else. Another big part of this is that we aren't competing with other medical schools in this area, because PittMed is the only school in the UPMC system, and, one of only two schools in the entirety of western Pennsylvania! As they say, great power comes with great responsibility: We have a unique responsibility to treat patients from such a wide catchment area with the world-class expertise of UPMC physicians (most of whom are also PittMed educators). But we also have a responsibility to make the most of the opportunities these patients provide. They are what will enable us to become the best possible physicians.

DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE AS A MEDICAL STUDENT AT PITT MED:
Right now, I'm taking a radiology elective, and simultaneously doing research and coordinating the handoff of responsibilities for a few different interest groups. Every day, I wake up, review some imaging from educational cases (X-rays, MRIs, CTs, ultrasounds) and answer questions to assess my learning. I usually exercise in the mornings and attend a few different zoom meetings related to my extracurricular activities. Then I round out the day by working on the research projects I'm engaged in! I just submitted a prospective study I wrote up with a Neurosurgery fellow where we examined how much benefit elderly patients get from surgery if they have a traumatic brain injury. Hint: the worse your condition when you get to the hospital, the more benefit surgery will give you.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PITT MEDICINE COMMUNITY:
I have found my classmates at PittMed to be a group of intelligent, driven, passionate and supportive students. I can confidently say that I consider the majority of my classmates to be friends, and I could hang out with basically anyone in my class and be happy. And, in other classes (above and below), I have found PittMed students in general want to help each other however they can. That was another big selling point for me: while many other schools I visited had a competitive (or even hostile) atmosphere, I cannot say the same for my time here.

WHAT STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS ARE YOU INVOLVED IN:
As a rising 3rd year, I've just passed the torch for leadership in a few different organizations: president-external of PittMed's chapter of the AMA and coordinator for the Neurosurgery interest group. At the regional level, I also just concluded my stint as legislative chair for the AMA student section for all of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. I'm staying on as a representative on our school's curriculum committee, and I'm involved also in our Quality Improvement committee as part of that. Later this year, I'm excited to help organize our neurosurgery mini-elective: "Brain and Blade," where we give 2nd year students hands on experience practicing different neurosurgical techniques (with a mixture of simulations, cadaver experiences, and 3D models).

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WITH YOUR SPARE TIME:
I'm an avid hiker and wilderness backpacker (and Western PA has a lot to offer on both counts!). I also love to watch movies and I'm a big fan of science fiction and horror novels. I listen to a lot of audiobooks on long bike rides around my neighborhood. Before med school, I got my PhD in Virology from Mount Sinai, so I've spent a lot of time over the past 16 months writing about COVID-19 for the public, talking to journalists, authoring Q&As, advocating for good science reporting, and organizing vaccination drives.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR STUDENTS APPLYING TO PITT MEDICINE:
I think picking a medical school is all about "fit." And it's really hard when you're trying to make a good impression to also figure out if a school is the best place for you! But it's worth it to be happy in the long run! I also think the advice I wish I'd known when I was in your shoes can be summed up in two phrases: "Show us what makes you excited about medicine" and "quality over quantity." Basically every application has lots of different extracurriculars, and it can often feel like the best approach is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. However, in my experience, the most impressive candidates are not those who have a laundry list of roles/clubs on their application, but rather those who have put a lot of effort into the 3-4 activities that they really cared about. The experiences that really show us who they are and what great physicians they will become.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT BEING IN THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH:
I love to go up to the top of Mount Washington and watch the city go to sleep. Pittsburgh has a great skyline! People say it's "the only city with a front door," because you see this great skyline when you come out of the Fort Pitt tunnel. Often, when I'm coming home from a long day studying or in the clinic, I'll take a quick detour up there just to clear my head and remember why I love this place.

WHAT DID YOU (OR ARE YOU PLANNING TO) DO DURING THE SUMMER AFTER YOUR FIRST YEAR OF MEDICAL SCHOOL:
I worked in a neuro-oncology lab, studying oncolytic herpes viral vectors for treating glioblastoma in mice. I also worked on a few different clinical projects (investigating traumatic brain injury outcomes in the elderly, and using machine learning to measure tumor volumes from intracranial MRIs) I also spent a lot of weekend nights around my backyard fire pit, making s'mores. I also got really into raising carnivorous plants (Venus fly traps, Pitcher plants, etc.) over the summer. And they're still thriving to this day!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COURSE AT PITT MEDICINE:
So far, I'd have to say Pulmonology, but not because it's what I want to do. Instead, I would say it's the class where I learned the most and felt the most challenged! The lungs are really cool, they aren't just sacs of air!

ANY FINAL ADVICE FOR ACCEPTED STUDENTS:
You should pick a school where you're going to be happy and supported and able to do your best. For me, PittMed is that place.