August 11, 2016

David J. Brown, MD: Paying it forward

How Michigan Med faculty make a difference every day

Dr. David Brown with a team of trainees

Dr. Brown, left, with a team of residents and students in Aerodigestive Clinic.

David J. Brown, M.D., originally came to the University of Michigan for his otolaryngology-head and neck surgery residency, during which time he also co-founded the Life Sciences Orchestra. He returned as a faculty member in 2011, and currently serves as Associate Vice President and Associate Dean for Health Equity and Inclusion and as Associate Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Here he answers 10 questions about his life and work with medical students:

Why did you choose to come to the University of Michigan?

I grew up on the East Coast and spent my entire life on the East Coast. The first day that I ever stepped foot in the Midwest was the day that I interviewed here for my residency. I fell in love with how much people really cared about our learning, training us to be great surgeons as well as contributors to otolaryngology and world of medicine in general. I returned to the East Coast for my fellowship and my first faculty job. What I didn't realize at the time was that not every place was like Michigan. The work environment, the friendliness, the collaboration, the ability to affect change, the freedom to explore and be supported, multidisciplinary approaches to care and collaborations beyond the medical campus—so many opportunities here that I didn't see elsewhere. I was excited to come back to Michigan to work with residents and medical students in arguably one of the best otolaryngology departments in the country.

What was your transition to living in Ann Arbor like?

Ann Arbor has a lot of qualities of the East Coast as well as the Midwest. There is the friendly and courteous nature of the Midwest, but at the same time you have really highly educated and interesting people to interact with when you're not working. The University attracts people from all over the world, and makes it very interesting and cosmopolitan as if you're in a smaller New York or Boston or DC, and you get that all in this one community.

In what capacity do you interact with medical students?

As a clinician, they come to clinic and shadow me there and in the OR. Some of them do research projects with me, or rotations as a 3rd- or 4th-year medical students in my clinic or the operating room. I've mentored students who are going into my field or various other fields in medicine where I help connect the dots and find the proper resources and people for them. Through the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, I've worked with a lot of the groups that we sponsor, including the Black Medical Association, Latin American & Native American Medical Association, Health Equity Scholars Program, United Asian American Medical Student Association, and Medical Students of Middle-Eastern Descent. I go to the Student Council and Student Diversity Council meetings, and interact with the leadership there as well.

What are your most memorable moments?

Just seeing the excitement and enthusiasm students have at the White Coat Ceremony, and their desire to learn what medicine is about. Then four years later, it’s even more powerful when they get hooded as physicians, to see that transition, how they've grown and developed, the pride they have from their accomplishments, and meeting their families and their whole support system—all the things that made them into the person and the future physician they will be.

How would you describe a Michigan medical student?

What I really value in them is that they want to make a difference. They use their passions and their goals to help direct their path. It’s "I want to help out with this population, I want to make a difference for the underserved, or I want to help advance LGBTQ health, or I want to make sure we provide care for people in rural settings." I see them being advocates for other voices that are not always heard and being passionate about that, and really striving to be leaders in areas that are within health care or parallel to health care.

Working with medical students keeps you young. They remind me of why I went into medicine in the first place.

David J. Brown, MD
How do you see your role in shaping them as future physicians?

I like to ask a lot of questions and get to know students' passions and goals. I don't need to create another David Brown, I need to create the best for them. I try to identify resources they may need and connect them to the right people and the right experiences so they can thrive and reach their fullest potential.

What do you like about working with medical students?

Working with medical students keeps you young. They remind me of why I went into medicine in the first place. Once you get deep into medicine you can forget what your initial purpose was, and you can become very automatic. I like the fact that the students ask questions, bring new things to the table, keep things fresh and keep things in perspective.

What originally drew you to a career in medicine?

I wanted to make a difference. I care about people. I want people to be healthy and achieve their fullest potential. I am happy that in my current role I get to mentor and help people along their individual paths. I've been very fortunate to have excellent mentors who've helped me define my path. In my role it's almost like paying it forward. The more people I can help, the more people they can help, the better the world will be.

What do you like to do outside of work and the Medical School?

I have two dogs, a chocolate lab and a snow white lab, and I spend a lot of time with them. I like to play tennis. I plan to audition to join the Life Sciences Orchestra again this year. Music is a big part of my life and having the ability to start the Life Sciences Orchestra, to be a part of it, and to bring the joy of music to our campus means a lot to me. Additionally, having the Hill Auditorium and the great talent that comes through Ann Arbor from all over the world, like major symphony orchestras from Chicago, New York, San Francisco makes enjoying music very accessible.

What is your advice to prospective medical school students?

Try to ask current medical students about their experiences and preparation. I would hypothesize that if they ask our students they will learn that there's a lot of pride in attending UMMS, and people feel that they've been prepared to be great physicians.