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From Gold Mining, to MERP, to Trauma Surgery

Ben Kuhns, RUSM studentAfter graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forensic science, Ben Kuhns hoped to join a crime lab in his home state of Alaska. But there was only one, and it was in the midst of a hiring freeze.

So he took a slightly different path.

Over the course of several years, Kuhns spent time crab fishing, working in oil fields, and gold mining. A lifelong outdoorsman, Kuhns enjoyed the work and the lifestyle. Still, something was missing.

“It was physically demanding, which I don’t mind, but I wanted to use my brain more than my body,” Kuhns says.

That intellectual itch is part of what led him to Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM). Kuhns had always cultivated an interest in science, and has volunteered with humanitarian groups such as Habitat for Humanity International. His connection to medicine was also extremely personal: His sister passed away from a meningioma that went undiagnosed for too long.

“In a way, I was bringing together everything that’s happened in my life by applying to medical school,” he says.

On MERP: “They Don’t Hold Your Hand, But They Help You Through It”

Ben Kuhns, RUSM student 1Kuhns was granted conditional acceptance to RUSM, on the condition that he successfully complete the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP) before starting as a first-semester med student.

“At first, it was a little terrifying, because I had been out of school for so long,” admits Kuhns, who was 28 when he applied. “It was tough trying to get back into an academic environment, let alone medical school.”

That’s exactly the benefit that MERP provides, especially for career changers and students who have been out of school for some time, like Kuhns. The 15-week program offers additional academic preparation and helps students adjust to the demands of medical school.

For Kuhns, MERP provided a combination of academic and social support. In addition to instructors who helped him improve his study skills and presented information in memorable ways, he found a good friend in his randomly assigned roommate, Neal Ferrick. Being able to encourage and help one another was a key factor in his success, Kuhns says. He also cites his family as a major source of support throughout both MERP and medical school.

“MERP is something I think everyone should go through. They don’t hold your hand, but they help you through it,” he says. “I got plenty of things wrong, and then I learned by understanding the issue and applying it next time. There’s no better way to learn than by failing.”

His hard work paid off. Kuhns received the MERP Scholar Award—given to students who have excelled academically and provided leadership to peers during MERP—and continued to do well at RUSM.

“I don’t think I could’ve gotten dean’s list all four semesters without MERP,” Ben says. “It teaches you to be a proactive student.”

Looking Ahead

Now, Kuhns is completing his clinical rotations at Atlanta Medical Center, experiencing the different specialties available. Although he came in thinking that cardiology would be his favorite, he’s fallen in love with trauma surgery. Still, he’s keeping his options open. 

“The future is unknown, but I’d eventually like to make it back to Alaska,” he says. “Alaska is where my heart is.”