In front of an audience of about 75 people that spilled into the aisles and out the side door of the Swing Space Activities Room, Ben Carson ’73 addressed the triumphs, tribulations and uncertainties he faced on his journey to becoming a world-renowned pediatric surgeon.
Carson returned to Yale for a Morse College Master’s Tea Thursday to speak about his experiences and the moral and ethical challenges future medical students will face. He stressed that doctors have the duty to use their talents to benefit society.
The director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and a 2008 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Carson is perhaps most famous for being the first surgeon to perform a successful hemispherectomy (the removal of one half of the brain); to remove excess fluid from the brain of a fetus while it was still in the womb; and to separate babies conjoined at the head.
Carson, who was born and raised in Detroit, said the stories of medical missionaries he heard in church as a child inspired him to pursue medicine. From the ages of eight to 13, Carson wanted to be a missionary doctor, believing there was “nothing more noble that a person could do.” In high school, his interests shifted to psychiatry, a lucrative profession he says was appealing at the time because his family did not have a lot of money.
“I was the local shrink in high school,” Carson said with a smile, eliciting laughter from audience members.
After graduating at the top of his high school class and only having to “study for an hour [before tests to] get an A,” Carson entered Yale thinking he “was perhaps the smartest person in the world.” Though Carson’s first semester at Yale was difficult and his confidence was shaken, he quickly developed better study habits and flourished during the remainder of his “bright college years,” he said. It was at Yale that Carson recognized that his good hand-eye coordination — which he discovered playing fooseball — coupled with his love of medicine and humanitarian efforts, could lead to a profession in neurosurgery.
Carson has always valued in serving others, he said. He has given money toward building reading rooms in elementary schools that do not have libraries and has started a program that brings students into hospitals to educate them about medical careers. In addition, he has established the Carson Scholars Fund, which gives $1,000 scholarships to students between fourth and 12th grade who have maintained high levels of academic excellence as well as community service.
Audience members Gabriella Biondo ’12 and Juliana Biondo ’13, two sisters who are Carson Scholars Fund alumna, said the Carson and his wife, Lacena Carson ’75, were inspirations to them.
“Having them as role models also was incredible because they both came here, and we felt honored to follow in their footsteps,” Gabriella Biondo said.
Roger Kim ’10 said he credits one of Carson’s books, “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” as his inspiration to apply to Yale and to pursue a career in medicine. Getting to hear Carson speak in person “was phenomenal and inspirational,” Kim said.
Carson concluded his talk to a standing ovation. Following the Tea, Morse students were invited to dinner with the Carsons. On Saturday, there will be a ceremony honoring the 2010 New Haven Carson Scholars.