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Video Text Alternative: Meet Our Researchers: Dr. James Mills on the Launch of His Career

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Meet Our Researchers
Dr. Mills describes the experience that led him to research


NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development logo
GRAPHIC SLIDE: James Mills, M.D., M.S.

Dr. Mills on camera.
Dr. James Mills: When I started out, I actually wanted to be a physician from the time I was very, very young. I can't even remember, but maybe 5 years old. But my goal was originally to go off into the jungle and to take care of people in—you may remember Albert Schweitzer was a very famous physician who set up a clinic in Africa and took care of very, very poor people.

What I always wanted to do was to have a big impact on people's lives. And so I went to medical school thinking I was going to go to Africa or some similar place, have a clinic, and I ended up being fortunate enough to get a fellowship from NIH to go and study tropical medicine in my last year of medical school.

I went to Costa Rica, and while I was there they said, "You really ought to go off with these medical missionaries and spend a few days in the jungle doing that kind of work." I went out there and I was just shocked. I remember one man who came in and said, "I'm coughing up blood and I don't know what's wrong." And I had absolutely nothing to offer this man—we couldn't do x-rays, we couldn't do a tuberculosis test—and it completely changed my goals. Because I really thought, "I really don't want to go out to one of these places and not be able to do very much."

So at that point I started thinking, "Well, what else could I do that might fulfill the basic goal of changing people's lives?" And I realized that research had that potential, that if you discover something useful, then you could really have a big effect on people's lives, as we were just discussing with the diabetes. We can prevent a lot of birth defects and prevent a lot of women from losing their pregnancies by teaching them that you need to get into this level of control before you get pregnant. So I ended up, instead of in the jungle, I ended up at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Last Updated Date: 09/03/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 09/03/2013
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