Adam Benjamin

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Adam's Crohn’s disease diagnosis at the age of nine, as well as knowing that so many others struggle with the disease, has motivated him to pursue a career in medicine.

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Adam Benjaminxheadshot.jpg

Undergraduate: Marquette University, 2013
Major: Biomedical

Graduate: Medical College of Wisconsin, 2015
Major: Clinical and Translational Science
Medical School: Medical College of Wisconsin, 2020

What led to your interest in medicine?

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of nine. I once read that, “People with Crohn’s Disease are like ducks. Ducks appear calm, floating quietly on the surface of the water, but underneath they’re paddling like crazy.” It is the same for me — on the outside you cannot really tell, but inside I am working really hard to stay in control. Because I do not look sick, many of my 20-something friends think that if I “hit the gym more” I will feel better. I wish it were so simple! Living with an invisible disease, and knowing that so many others struggle with inflammatory bowel disease, is what led to my interest in medicine.

What experience did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?

A few years after I was diagnosed, when I was a patient at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, David Binion, MD, a gastroenterologist with Crohn's disease, gave me a personal tour of his laboratory at the Medical College of Wisconsin. As we walked, Dr. Binion shared with me how living with Crohn's disease and its challenges not only aids him in his research, but also provides him with a personal connection to many of his patients.

I find a great deal of truth in the words of author Randy Pausch who said, "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer." In a perfect world, would I have liked to have escaped having Crohn's disease? Of course. But this is my life, and I believe that it holds the valuable opportunity to compassionately care for patients as I have been cared for so often in the past.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

When I was first diagnosed, Subra Kugathasan, MD, (a former Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin physician who treated me for ten years) understood that he was treating more than just me as his patient. Coming from a family that is devoid of any medical background, he knew it was important to educate me and my family about my disease. 

Dr. Kugathasan has been an incredible inspiration to me and was a big influence in my decision to apply to medical school.  For three summers, when I was an undergrad at Marquette University, I interned under Dr. Kugathsan at the Emory Children's Center in Atlanta, Georgia. I worked with a team of researchers, medical students, and doctors on projects related to inflammatory bowel disease. I also shadowed Dr. Kugathasan in his clinical practice. I remember at one young patient's visit, the parents were surprised to learn that I also had Crohn’s disease. As the parents described their anxiety and frustration trying to manage their son's Crohn’s disease, I felt that connection that Dr. Binion had talked about during our tour many years ago. The opportunities and support Dr. Kugathsan has provided me throughout the years has played a significant role in my journey to becoming a doctor.

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) is close to home. Since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, MCW doctors and nurses have always provided me with tremendous care. They truly express a genuine concern for my overall well-being. Being close to my doctor, Daniel Stein, MD, is very important to me. This is especially true when I am experiencing a flare. Dr. Stein and his team have been there for me and have helped me manage my disease through the stresses of medical school.

Today, as a medical student rotating in the pediatric and adult GI clinics, it is heartwarming and impressive to see that every person receives the same compassion and commitment I have come to experience as a patient. As I look to the future, I hope to one day continue the tradition of outstanding patient care MCW has established by emulating and working alongside those who have had such a major impact on my life. It will be such a privilege to give back — or pay forward — some of the skills and compassion that have been given both to me and my family and to my community by doctors who share not only their knowledge but themselves.

What was your first year of medical school like?

My first year of medical school definitely had its ups and downs. Early in my first semester, I experienced a flare-up that forced me to take a step back from school and focus on my health. Thanks to Dr. Stein and his team, and the understanding and guidance of the administration at MCW, we were able to get my disease back under control so I could refocus on my rigorous studies. I was able to split my first year into two years and continue my journey on a five-year graduation plan.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

Outside of the school, I enjoy sports. Since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I have found parallels between playing tennis — a passion of mine since early childhood — and living with a chronic illness. Some days I feel on top of the world, hitting every target. At other times, I have to dig deep to find the strength and patience to continue. This approach helps me deal with the stresses of medical school. I work to stay positive and keep looking forward.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

This past November I got engaged. My fiancée, Mary-Kate, is also in the health care field. I am truly fortunate to have someone who appreciates the commitment and rigors of medical school. For Mary-Kate and me, communication and understanding are essential elements in finding the right balance between personal time and medical school.

What makes your story unique?

Crohn’s disease severity and symptoms vary from person to person, and because everyone deals with adversity differently, my personal struggles and triumphs are what makes my story unique. For me, one of the most frustrating things about having Crohn’s is the lack of answers to what makes up this disease. I believe that it is not just a coincidence that the colon resembles a question mark. And, although I do not know how or why I developed Crohn’s disease, I do know that 20 years ago it put me on a path. It has included many experiences I did not want or ask for. But often in life, the unexpected things give us the best rewards.

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