For MCW medical student Tommy Langer, helping patients manage their illness is not good enough. He starts medical school later this month, but opted to first earn his PhD in physiology. He started working on that portion of his combined MD/PhD degree in 2012 and just defended his dissertation in June.
“I have always wanted to provide direct patient care, but along the way, I realized I also want to conduct research to help improve the tools we have available to treat the patients,” Tommy said. Working in the lab of Dr. Bert Forster, his dissertation research focused on investigating how opioids control breathing. Specifically, what part of the brain the opioids interact with to control a person’s breathing and the mechanism by which the opioids control it.
Tommy’s desire to be a doctor and researcher stems from personal experience. His dad was diagnosed with chronic liver disease and his grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease, and he quickly noticed the limited number of tools available to their physicians to help them.
While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Tommy was mentored by Dr. Rob Balza, who received his PhD at MCW under the mentorship of Dr. Ravi Misra, Dean of the Graduate School. Dr. Balza connected him to the Graduate School and helped him get an internship at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, and Tommy quickly realized where he wanted to continue his schooling.
“During my internship, I liked the atmosphere at MCW and the collegiality and collaboration of the faculty,” Tommy said. “I could call up physicians and researchers and get people to talk to me. The MCW faculty are invested in your development.”
The mentor who helped Tommy get his internship received his PhD from MCW and gave Tommy his first research experience. It is something Tommy hopes to “pay forward” with other students along the way.
“I want to be remembered for helping other people along their journey,” Tommy said. “It is amazing how someone can take a little time and completely change the direction of someone else’s life. I want to be that person to others.”