Hobbs raises bar for med school millennials in GR

October 5, 2009
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With a master’s degree in biological science and six research papers from nephrology research at DeVos Children’s Hospital already under his belt, David Hobbs is an achiever.

One student at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids isn’t waiting for the sheepskin to make an impact.

High-energy and intense at age 28, second-year medical student David Hobbs already has a master’s degree. He has participated in six research papers, four of them accepted for publication and two pending. He was one of six students in the U.S. to receive a Student Scholar Grant in 2008 from the American Society of Nephrology, the largest professional group for doctors who specialize in the kidneys.

“In general, I like nephrology, but it has its pros and cons,” said Hobbs as he mused about where his interest in research and his eventual medical degree might take his career. He describes himself as “project-oriented.”

Hobbs worked with Dr. Timothy Bunchman, one of about 1,400 pediatric nephrologists in the world, at DeVos Children’s Hospital to research kidney disease in children.

“To put this in perspective, I have 100-plus research papers published, but a typical academic physician like myself will submit one or two papers a year,” Bunchman said. “You’re lucky if one out of two gets accepted. David has submitted six, and four out of the six are accepted. And the other two, in my opinion, with his tenacity, probably will be accepted. And these papers are not trivial.”

The papers cover topics such as kidney issues in children with lupus, ways to promote growth in children with renal failure, hypertension in children, and a review of a novel treatment for infants that was developed by Bunchman and his partner, Dr. Gina Marie Barletta. 

Hobbs grew up in Cass City in the Thumb area. He recalled that as a youngster, he watched the progress of a major addition to the family home. Finally, there remained just a few tasks to complete.

“There was some stuff lingering. I figured I could change the lock on my door,” he said. “I just finished all the doors, and my dad couldn’t believe I had done it.”

That inner drive keeps Hobbs focused on tasks that are tough. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology from Central Michigan University, Hobbs headed to Philadelphia’s Drexel University for a master’s degree in biological science, which helped to fuel his interest in research.

“The master’s degree was kind of a ladder to get into medical school,” Hobbs said, noting that more and more med students are showing up at the door with advanced educations. “The master’s degree does stand in itself, but it was my way of showing how I was serious about getting in (to medical school).”

After his first year of medical school at East Lansing, Hobbs put the M.D. on hold last year as he completed the nephrology research under the grant. Bunchman said with the grant providing a unique opportunity for Hobbs, they worked with Dean Marsha Rappley and others in the MSU-CHM to make special arrangements to allow Hobbs to suspend medical school for a year and to ensure that he could to return.

This fall, Hobbs is hitting the books once again, this time at the med school’s temporary Grand Rapids location. The permanent home, the Secchia Center on Michigan Street, is expected to open next year.

As serious as he is about obtaining the book learning necessary for that medical degree, Hobbs said he is anxious to start working directly with patients. “Dealing with people, that’s what makes it fun,” he said.

At one point, Hobbs said, he weighed the possibility of becoming a minister and attended a year of Bible school.

“The natural progression at one time seemed to go on to ministry,” he said. “But I really felt that I could make a big impact as a physician.

“My faith in Jesus is essentially what drives me every day. Research is appealing, the dream of discovering something that helps out people — that keeps you going. The same in your studies. I don’t think there is a better model of healing than what we see in the Bible.”

Hobbs and his wife, Kaitlin, an elementary school teacher, have been married for three years.

“He has really paved a new way for medical students in this town,” Bunchman added. “With the med school essentially transitioning totally in this town — which I’m very excited about —this is the type of people you want that will help drive the next generation of medical research and medical care for a community that is really trying to raise the bar of medical care.”  — Elizabeth Slowik

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