From In Vivo to In Vitro
by Dr Daniela Bomgardner
When I started medical school in Berlin in 1981, it was my ambition upon graduation to work as a physician in either a hospital setting or private practice. Unfortunately, while in school, employment for medical doctors in Germany was in dire straits. This was due to an increase in medical students and a decrease in job availability. Physicians experienced huge unemployment numbers. So, it came as no surprise that when I graduated from medical school in 1988, I could not find a position. In Germany, the medical education system is quite different from that in the United States. For example, I had the option of completing a research thesis, yet few medical students in the United States have the opportunity to perform research. Because the German job market was so poor, I decided to start my research thesis in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Free University of Berlin. This led me from the traditional medical curriculum to a new path that included the opportunity to learn research techniques. During this period in my training, I was surprised to learn that I enjoyed research. I still felt close to my original goal of learning traditional medicine, because I was spending time with the medical students, teaching them gross anatomy, histology, and embryology. However, I enjoyed a new freedom, one that is common to those in research, scheduling freedom. Such autonomy is opposite to the time constraints imposed upon physicians. In 1991, I completed my doctoral thesis and found myself at a crossroads as to what lay ahead. I was not sure if I wanted to live an “in vitro” life or if I should return to the “in vivo” part of my medical profession.
To aid my decision, I went back to the life of a clinician. In the Department of Biochemical Endocrinology, I worked mainly with infertility patients. During this time in the clinic, I quickly learned how much I missed the research laboratory. I missed the freedom to make flexible schedules and missed teaching students. One might say that I liked the Sertoli cell more than the whole testicle.
So, I moved back into research and landed in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. I stayed in this position until 1999, when for personal reasons, I applied and was accepted into a program in the United States.
My new adventure began at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. With a special thanks to Dr Terry Turner, I began a postdoctoral fellowship on an institutional NRSA grant in the Department of Urology. Despite my initial fears of not being on the same knowledge level as MD/PhDs and PhDs in the United States, as well as my limitations with the English language, I started the position and succeeded, thanks to a very supportive environment. After completing the fellowship, I applied successfully for an individual NRSA training grant. However, these grants are limited to 3 years. Therefore, with the help of Dr Donna Vogel from the NICHD/NIH, the next step in my career was achieved when I was awarded a KO8 grant, a career award for physicians whose purpose is to become an independent investigator.
Currently, I am working in the Department of Cell Biology, in the laboratory of Dr Barry Hinton, at the University of Virginia. My work has shifted from human testes, prostate exams, circumcisions, and erectile dysfunction to mouse testis, epididymal perfusions, protein assays, and gene chip arrays. Although my journey to this point has been unusual, it shows that change is possible. It just depends upon one's determination. Remember, no decision is set in stone.