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If you like Ben Carson's story, you might also like:
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Ben Carson can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Ben Carson also appears in the videos:
The Health of America: Individual Responsibility
The Arts, Sciences & Creativity
Advocacy and Citizenship: Speaking Out for Others

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ben Carson in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
The Power of Words

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Johns Hopkins

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Benjamin Carson Interview

Pediatric Neurosurgeon

June 7, 2002
Dublin, Ireland

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  Benjamin Carson

(Dr. Benjamin S. Carson was first interviewed by the Academy of Achievement on June 29, 1996 in Sun Valley, Idaho, and again on June 7, 2002 in Dublin, Ireland. The following transcript draws on both interviews.)

People often speak of brain surgery as the epitome of something difficult and hard to achieve. When did you first have a notion that you actually wanted to do this?

Benjamin Carson: Medicine has always been the only career that I considered, but the aspect of medicine changed. It went from missionary doctor to psychiatrist and then I toyed for a while with the idea of being a cardiovascular surgeon. But, as I began in medical school -- toward the end of my first year -- to realize that I really didn't want to do psychiatry, and I felt that although cardiothoracic surgery was challenging, that it didn't offer me enough variety of cases. And then I said, "Well, what's an area where you could become an authority very quickly?" and I said, "The brain, because nobody knows anything about the brain." And, I spent all those years thinking I was going to be a psychiatrist. So, I already knew quite a lot about the brain. So, it was toward the end of my first year in medical school that I decided that neurosurgery was going to be the right field for me.

You say you never really considered anything other than medicine. You must have been a very serious student, to get into medical school.

Benjamin Carson: I was not a serious student at all. In fact, I was a horrible student. But, you know, like many students, I kind of envisioned myself as a doctor anyway, despite the fact that I wasn't doing well. I can remember we used to sit in the hallways at Detroit City Hospital or Boston City Hospital for hours and hours because we were on medical assistance, which meant we had to wait until one of the interns or residents was free to see us, and I didn't mind at all because I was in the hospital. And, I was listening to the PA system. "Dr. Jones, Dr. Jones to the emergency room," just sounded so fabulous. And I would be saying, "They're going to be saying 'Dr. Carson' one day." But, of course we have beepers now. But nevertheless, it was just wonderful to have that dream and to imagine myself in that setting.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

It was perhaps unrealistic, because...

We lived in the inner city, single parent home, dire poverty, my mother only had a third grade education. I was perhaps the worst student you've ever seen. I thought I was really stupid. All my classmates and teachers agreed, and my nickname was "Dummy." But, fortunately I continued to hold onto that dream and, you know, when I was in the fifth grade, my mother put us on this reading program and said we had to read two books a piece from the Detroit Public Library and submit to her written book reports, which she couldn't read, but we didn't know that, and she'd put a little check mark on them and act like she was reading them.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So she actually could not read.

Benjamin Carson: She couldn't read, no. She only had a third grade education, but she was horrified when she saw my report card at mid-term in the fifth grade. I was failing almost every subject. She knew what a difficult life she had, having only a third grade education, trying to raise two young sons in the inner city, with no resources. She saw me heading down the same path, and my brother as well. She just didn't know what to do. She prayed for wisdom and came up with this idea of turning off the television set and letting us watch only two to three pre-selected TV programs during the week. I was considerably less than enthusiastic about this program, as you might imagine.

We had to stay in the house and read these books and our friends were outside and they were playing and they knew we couldn't come out. It seems like they would be making just that much more noise to torment us. But, I hated it for the first several weeks, but then all of a sudden, I started to enjoy it because we had no money, but between the covers of those books, I could go anyplace, I could be anybody, I could do anything. And, I began to learn how to use my imagination more because it doesn't really require a lot of imagination to watch television, but it does to read. You've got to take those letters and make them into words, and those words into sentences, and those sentences into concepts, and the more you do that, the more vivid your imagination becomes. And, I believe that's probably one of the reasons that you see that creative people tend to be readers, because they're exercising their mind.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

A lot of people say, "I can learn everything I need to know. I can watch this video or I can watch this DVD," or what have you, but that's like saying you can develop your muscles by watching somebody else lift weights. You have to actually exercise your mind in order to get it to be active and to get it to be creative and reading is a tremendous way to do that.

I was reading about people in laboratories, pouring chemicals from a beaker into a flask and watching the steam rise, and completing electrical circuits, and discovering galaxies, and looking at microcosms in the microscope, and I just acquired so much knowledge, and I had put myself into those settings and I saw myself differently than everybody else in my environment who just wanted to get out of school so they could get some cool clothes and a cool car. And, I was looking down the pike and seeing myself as a scientist or a physician or something of that nature, and that was one of the things that sort of carried me through much of the ridicule and some of the hardships that a person would have to go through coming from my environment and going to medical school.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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