Carving out a future for oneself often means choosing one path over others — saying goodbye to one passion to pursue another.
Luckily for UF College of Medicine MD-PhD candidate Doug Bennion, his future path allows him to pursue both his passions.
“I felt torn about the thought of leaving biomedical research behind in order to pursue patient care,” he said. “It wasn’t until I learned about combined MD-PhD training programs that I learned both of these goals could be combined to create the career path of a physician-scientist. I knew right away this was the path for me.”
Bennion’s pursuits were rewarded Jan. 3 when he received the Southern Medical Association Alliance Society of 1924 Medical Student Scholarship. The alliance is the affiliate volunteer organization for the Southern Medical Association, comprising spouses of physicians from 17 states. This award recognized Bennion’s commitment to education, research and philanthropy.
Elaine Hale, president of the Southern Medical Association Alliance, said out of more than 200 applications, Bennion’s file rose to the top.
Patrick Duff, MD, associate dean for student affairs at the UF College of Medicine, commended Bennion for his achievement.
“He’s an outstanding student, already developing great skills in the research lab, and he’s a devoted parent and spouse. That’s what makes him stand out. He’s a real triple threat as a scholar, a student and a person,” he said.
Bennion received his PhD in medical sciences, with a concentration in physiology and pharmacology, in April 2016. Three days after his graduation ceremony, he started his third year of medical school.
“Every day for me is an adventure,” he said, “from being taught one-on-one the latest laboratory techniques by wonderful collaborating scientists, to scrubbing in on cases with distinguished UF surgeons, to presenting cutting-edge research from my own dissertation work.”
His research focuses on an enzyme in the body’s blood pressure system that, when activated, decreases brain damage and improves neurological function following the onset of a stroke.
“I am pursuing a clinician-scientist career that I hope will contribute to successfully guiding therapeutic discoveries for diseases such as stroke from the laboratory bench to patient bedsides,” Bennion said.
Colin Sumners, PhD, served as Bennion’s research mentor. He said Bennion is an outstanding student and researcher.
“Doug is a model UF College of Medicine student because whatever he does, he gives his all and nothing less,” he said. “This comes across not only in his search for therapies for human disease, but in his completely humanistic and caring attitude.”
Bennion’s interest in medicine began at an early age. When he was 3 months old, he underwent surgery to correct premature fusion of his skull. Untreated, this condition would’ve resulted in progressive mental disability and early death. Today, the only reminder he has of this procedure is a scar running down the back of his head.
“From the time I was old enough to understand what the doctors had done for me, I’ve wanted to grow up to fix babies who were broken, as I put it back then,” he said.
After graduating, Bennion is interested in completing his residency in ear, nose and throat surgery. When he’s not studying or researching, he’s spending time with his wife, Jenn, and their three children, ages 7, 4 and 2. They go on bike rides, shoot hoops or sing and dance together in their home. He calls his family the light of his life.
“Medical school isn’t the end-all, be-all of life. It doesn’t dictate or define the person you are,” he said. “If I’m with my family, I am happy doing just about anything. My life is just too great to be anything but a dream.”