AARON BROWN: APPLYING PROBLEM-SOLVING TO TAKE ON CHALLENGES

Aaron Brown has gathered wisdom from three key mentors who have seen him through a number of challenges throughout his life. Now, as he faces the daily demands of medical school, Aaron uses the inspiration and lessons provided by his mentors as he works hard toward a career that will enable him to help others overcome their own challenges as well.

Growing up in Chesapeake, Virginia, Aaron’s father worked hard to provide for his family of seven. While at the time Aaron was not aware of the financial challenges his family faced, he knows now that his father’s work ethic ensured they never experienced a day without what they needed. He modeled a drive to push through barriers and challenges, a value that Aaron applies today in medical school.

Aaron’s mother instilled in him a deep sense of compassion, which he carries with him as well. Aaron saw his parents open their doors for other children in their community who did not have the same support system, and he learned from their example of selflessness and serving those around them.

Aaron recalls an early academic challenge starting in the 7th grade, when he began to struggle in math. His dad worked with him every day on math problems, and his teacher supplied additional support as well. With their encouragement and Aaron’s hard work, he ended up excelling in math, which eventually became his major at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude.

“Math changed my life in showing me that problem solving is where I wanted to be. That’s what brought me to medicine,” said Aaron.

Applying math concepts to problem-solve in medicine

During his junior year at Virginia Commonwealth, Aaron was faced with one of his greatest challenges – losing his mom from heart failure due to complications from chemotherapy. He shares, “l had to hone in not on the loss of her, but her life. How would she feel if I let things fall apart?”

With this mindset, Aaron channeled inspiration from his mother to maintain his very high GPA in the midst of his loss. To this day, he reflects on his mother’s life as motivation to keep going when faced with difficulties. This experience also solidified his interest in becoming a physician, hoping to apply his problem solving skills to help others avoid facing similar challenges. “Seeing what she went through, I don’t want anyone else to go through that. She’s the driving force behind what I do,” said Aaron.

After graduation, Aaron applied his skills in math and problem solving and his interest in helping others by becoming a tutor in the Richmond Public Schools. He took pride in being an example of how to channel ambition to forge a new path for oneself, and to this day, he cherishes the progress he continues to see in his former students as they continue to work hard and overcome adversity.

Aaron with his mentees at a Washington Nationals baseball game.

“Tutoring taught me how to take a complex situation and explain it to somebody,” Aaron said. While Aaron was not aware of the correlation at the time, tutoring was preparing Aaron for a career as a physician. He now appreciates how it helps him empathize with what others are going through, helping them understand their problem, and then educating them on how they can help themselves.

Motivated by his mom’s life, Aaron turned to chase after his dream of attending medical school by transitioning to work for Dr. Duncan, a leading cardiologist in Virginia. Dr. Duncan became one of Aaron’s greatest mentors, and impacted his life more deeply than he anticipated. “‘Dr. Duncan would always quote to me a piece from an Alexander Pope poem, ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again,'” Aaron shared.

Aaron explains that this encourages him to take advantage of every opportunity to learn as much as he can. Dr. Duncan was one of Aaron’s biggest supporters in pursuing medicine and getting into graduate school. Now, his advice pushes him every day as he absorbs an incredible amount of information in his first year of medical school. Beyond Dr. Duncan’s wise advice, the work Aaron got to do cemented his interest in cardiology as his future focus.

“It solidified my love for medicine,” Aaron said. “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Aaron went on to receive his masters in biochemistry and molecular biology from Georgetown University, earning nearly a 4.0 GPA. Aaron’s research focused on correlations between hypertension and diabetes, an area of interest to him, he states, as both can be common amongst the African American population. His work at Georgetown revealed to him how technology could be incorporated into medicine, which later would lead him to pursue Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

“It solidified my love for medicine. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Aaron Brown, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Aaron presenting his research poster while earning his master's degree at Georgetown University.

After Georgetown, Aaron worked at the Naval Medical Research Center, focusing on regenerative medicine and stem cell research, seeking out ways to reduce discomfort from prosthetics for war veterans. “These individuals made sacrifices, and we wanted to make sure they were taken care of when they came back to the U.S.,” he shares.

Aaron was ready to see his lifelong dream of attending medical school come to fruition, and he applied to Carle Illinois. He particularly credits his interactions with Heather Wright, director of recruitment and student success, as his deciding factor for choosing the engineering-based medical school.

“She showed me that there was opportunity here to pursue my ultimate dream of giving back to the disadvantaged, people with socioeconomic hardships and minorities,” Aaron said. “That’s where my heart is, and she made me feel comfortable with this school, because she said, “You’ll have our full support and backing.”’

Aaron shares that, while medical school has been challenging, he has found Heather’s promise to be fulfilled. “This school allows you to be innovative and lets your dreams come true. Already I have the full support from faculty and staff for an idea that is near and dear to my heart.”

“This school allows you to be innovative and lets your dreams come true. Already I have the full support from faculty and staff for an idea that is near and dear to my heart.”

Aaron with his Carle Illinois classmates at their first holiday party.

While the driving reason he’s pursuing medicine is his mother, he carries support from his father and wisdom from Dr. Duncan every day. His sister shared with him about tears that fell from his dad’s eyes as he watched Aaron walk across the stage at his white coat ceremony, a reaction from pride while also wishing Aaron’s mom was there to see him.

“He’s seen my struggle up until this point,” said Aaron. “I remember sitting down with him, and him showing me how to do math. Now we’re here, and I’m in medical school.”

The generosity of people like you made it possible for Aaron and his classmates to attend Carle Illinois with scholarships.