Spotlights & Profiles

Student Spotlights

Q-and-A with Charles Goodwin

July 31, 2014

In a continuing series, InScope invites students at the IU School of Medicine to participate in Q-and-As about the time at the school, taking time out of busy schedules to share what brought them to the field of medicine as well as how they're hoping to use their experiences at IU in the next phase of their education and careers.

Charles Goodwin

Charles Goodwin, Ph.D. | Photo By Tim Yates

This week’s student Q-and-A participate is Charles B. Goodwin III, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the School of Medicine, who recently received the U.S. Public Health Service's 2014 Excellence in Public Health Award for his service to underserved communities in Indianapolis.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Goodwin completed the doctorate portion of his graduate training this year and recently entered the fourth year of his medical degree program.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?

Charles Goodwin: I came to medicine kind of late. I wasn’t a pre-med student in college; I got my undergraduate degree in linguistics. I decided to apply to medical school during my senior year of college. After graduation, I got a job as a technician in a research lab at the University of Chicago while I was taking pre-med classes part-time and getting my medical school application together. I enjoyed working in the lab so much, I didn’t know whether to go to medical school or go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. instead, so I decided to try to do both and I applied to combined M.D./Ph.D. programs.

Why did you choose to pursue your education at the IU School of Medicine?

CG: I liked the M.D./Ph.D. program a lot. I thought the research being done here was very interesting. The program directors, Wade Clapp, M.D., and Maureen Harrington, Ph.D., and all the faculty I met during my interviews were very friendly and supportive. At the other places I interviewed, I felt like the attitude was, "What can you do for us?" while the attitude at IU School of Medicine was, "What can we do for you?" And I still find that to be the case. I think everyone I’ve worked with has been completely invested in my success, and I’ve had a lot of great experiences and opportunities here as a result. I also appreciate the wide variety of hospital and clinical settings where we get to train. It’s a great place for both clinical and research training.

What are your research interests? What have you been working on in the lab while completing on your Ph.D.?

CG: I'm interested in leukemia, stem cell biology and signal transduction. I did my thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Rebecca Chan in the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research. My project involves a rare but fatal form of pediatric leukemia called Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia, which affects infants and toddler-aged children, and which is frequently caused by a mutation in a protein called SHP2. I study how this mutated SHP2 regulates a signaling pathway called PI3K, which is frequently hyperactivated in cancer. We found that SHP2 uniquely hyperactivates a form of PI3K called p110 delta, which is only expressed in blood cells, making it a perfect target for leukemia drugs because they are less likely to have side effects in other tissues or organ systems. There is a great drug against p110 delta that is showing promise in several other types of leukemia, and our results show that it may hold promise for Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia as well.

How does a strong scientific background affect your outlook as a physician?

CG: I like to think about things mechanistically. When a patient presents with a particular sign or symptom or has a particular lab value, I find it helpful to take a step back and think about the underlying mechanisms for that sign, symptom or lab value to help come up with the best differential diagnoses. Furthermore, as a physician-scientist, I will have the unique opportunity to take what I learn from my patients back to the lab and contribute to the process of discovery that hopefully leads to new and better therapies. I know my patients will inspire me in my research. Having a career where I have one foot in the lab and the other in the clinic would be a huge privilege. 

What motivates your involvement in projects such as the IU Student Outreach Clinic and Eskenazi Health Center Westside Family Health Fair?

CG: I started getting involved with the IU Student Outreach Clinic and the Westside Health Fair early during my Ph.D. training as a way of maintaining the clinical skills and knowledge gained during the first two years of medical school. It was sort of by accident that I was fortunate to get the opportunity to take on leadership roles in the Westside Health Fair and the IU-SOC, and my involvement just grew from there. I've really enjoyed having the opportunity of getting to know and work with not only students from the IU School of Medicine, but students from other disciplines as well, including pharmacy, social work, law, dentistry, physical therapy and occupational therapy. It’s great getting to work with all these brilliant people from different backgrounds and perspectives with the common goal of providing much needed healthcare and social services to people who have significant barriers to things we often take for granted. Many times, I have had a patient or health fair participant thank me for what we do, and its honestly a better feeling than you get from earning the highest score on an exam or receiving an honors on a clinical rotation.

What do you feel is the most important trait for a future physician-scientist?

CG: I think patience is the most important trait for a physician-scientist, both because the training pathway is so long and because many times in research, your experiments don’t work, your reagents fail, your hypothesis is wrong, etc. But if you are patient and persistent, and you work hard, you will get great data and you will finish your degrees. In addition, I think you have to have a passion for what you are doing. If you enjoy the process, then your goals -- whether a publication or a completed degree -- will come naturally.

What do you want to do after you finish your training at the IU School of Medicine?

CG: I would like to become a physician-scientist at an academic institution. I hope to have a lab that does translational research in leukemia as well as treating patients with leukemia and other hematologic disorders. I also would like to be involved in medical education and service learning, two things that have had a profound impact on my experience at IU School of Medicine. And I hope to be able to contribute to the training of future physicians.

What’s been your most memorable experiences at the IU School of Medicine?

CG: My thesis defense was one of my most memorable experiences at the School. The word “defense” makes it sound kind of scary, but it’s really a celebration of the work that you have done as graduate student. I got to give a seminar summarizing my research, and all my friends and family and other students from my department and program were there to support me and celebrate with me. In addition, the IU Student Outreach Clinic open house the year I was the chair of clinic's executive board was a very memorable experience. It was a fantastic celebration of all the hard work that our volunteers had accomplished to help so many people in need. Often we're all working so hard and get so lost in the details that, we don’t have the opportunity to pause and take a step back and appreciate everything we've done.  Being involved with the student outreach clinic has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and the open house was a great opportunity to reflect on our accomplishments and be proud of the work we’ve done together.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

CG: I've really appreciated all the opportunities that I have had at the IU School of Medicine. I think that as an institution, IU highly values the contributions of its students and allows them to participate in almost every aspect of our academic community. As a result, I’ve not only been able to participate in research and service learning opportunities like the IU Student Outreach Clinic and the Westside Health Fair, but I have also been able to serve on committees like the Teacher Learner Advocacy Committee and contribute to the IU School of Medicine curricular reform process.

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