From microscopes to medical school

How one Aggie found connections between research and medicine
October 23, 2019

Many medical students are asked why they decided to pursue such a tough career with its long hours, stressful cases and years of study. For Neal Busbuso, a second-year medical student at Texas A&M College of Medicine, it’s all about connection and looking forward through research.

A unique opportunity

After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas in 2014, Busbuso decided to get some experience in the research industry. “I really wanted to get experience working, so the natural thing for me to do was to see who was hiring.”

Luckily for him, in 2016, Busbuso found a job as a research technician for the Touchstone Diabetes Center at the University of Texas Southwestern, in Dallas. Here, he was involved in research about diabetes and obesity. He worked under Rana Gupta, PhD, practicing new techniques in molecular and cellular biology, and some of his efforts even resulted in a number of co-authorships on primary research articles. “Neal contributed extensively to a number of important projects,” Gupta said. “He proved to be very creative, smart and hard-working.”

Beyond the great research experience, Busbuso gained valuable professional insights by just being in the lab. “We were doing amazing science, and it was also a really great atmosphere to grow as an individual and know what it’s like to work with others,” he said.

After a couple of years working in research, however, Busbuso decided it was time for a shift. “I realized I wanted to do something in biomedical science that involved working with patients more directly,” Busbuso said. “I wanted to shift out of that research role into a more hands-on, direct patient contact role.” To ultimately create a career connecting with patients, Busbuso decided to start the long and often difficult process of applying to medical schools in Texas.

Hands-on healing

“Getting into medical school is hard, especially the interview process,” Busbuso said. “It’s really important to know about what the school is saying in their mission.” From his experience, he says having the experiences that are most in line with the values of the school helps increase a person’s odds of acceptance. “I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that you know who you are applying to.” For him, Texas A&M’s core values and overall mission felt like a great match.

Busbuso was accepted into the College of Medicine in 2018 and has loved every part of it so far. Fortunately, his past research experience gave him an advantage when adjusting to the rigorous schedule of medical school. “There wasn’t as steep of a learning curve starting medical school with some research experience,” Busbuso said. “I was able to be more productive and generally do more with my time.”

Busbuso’s experiences at Texas A&M have only further confirmed he made the right choice for medical school. He especially likes the small class sizes and the comradery that comes with being an Aggie. “Being able to know everyone by name and have that close connection to other students and not feeling like you’re sizing each other up is so welcoming and one of the better things at Texas A&M,” he said. He also appreciates the faculty’s dedication to student success. “The faculty here really want to help students and care not only about our success but our well-being in general.”

Looking forward

Busbuso is still involved in research while attending medical school. Over the summer, he worked with Joseph Rutkowski, PhD, in the Department of Medical Physiology, as part of Texas A&M’s Medical Scholar Research Pathway Program. Here, he participated in research about the lymphatic system’s functions. Busbuso’s experience as a research technician provided some advantages here as well. “I was able to spend this time doing more procedures instead of just learning the basics in the lab,” he said. Throughout the program, Busbuso proved to be a great addition to the lab. “He’s a nice, smiling face,” Rutkowski said, “everyone enjoys having him around.”

As far as what is in store for Busbuso’s future, he’s looking forward to pursuing some sort of surgical role in medicine. “I like the satisfaction that comes with surgery in general. I like the technology involved and being able to fix people’s problems really quickly,” he said.

For now, though, Busbuso is just enjoying all the experiences and practical applications that come with being a second-year medical student. “Getting to connect the things I studied and what I’m hearing from patients is amazing.”

It’s this connection that motivates Busbuso and helps him provide his own unique answer about why he wants to be a medical doctor. “Being able to connect what we study to what is happening to real people is what really made me realize I could do this for the rest of my life.”

Busbuso’s ample research experience has certainly prepared him for a successful future in whatever area of medicine he decides to pursue. As Gupta put it, “Medical students will have ample time to learn about the treatments and therapies of today. Those medical students, like Neal, with meaningful research experience will help identify and shape the treatment to come in the future.”

Article written by Corley-Ann Parker

— Christina Sumners

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