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One of a Kind Surgeon
Chat with Michael Ain of Johns Hopkins Hospital

ABCNEWS.com
Sept. 14

Dr. Michael Ain
The most challenging pediatric cases at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital occupy the talents of Dr. Michael Ain, whose specialty is correcting skeletal deformities.

    Ain is a dwarf — 4 feet 3 inches tall. Although he proved his academic potential as an undergrad at Brown University, many in the medical community questioned his ability to succeed as a doctor.
    Ain, 38, is now an orthopedic surgeon at one of the nation’s leading medical centers. He has worked around the obstacles, making the necessary accommodations for his height. There is no element of his job that he cannot do.
    Ain appeared in last night’s episode of Hopkins 24/7. Missed the broadcast? Click here to watch a video clip, and then look below for a transcript of our chat with Dr. Ain.
Moderator at 2:04pm ET
Dr. Michael Ain joins us live from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Thanks for being here.
Moderator at 2:05pm ET
Dr. Ain, you mentioned in the broadcast that you were rejected by 10 medical schools in your first round of applications, based on your size. Pat in our audience asks: "How did you develop the self-confidence to keep applying in the face of rejection?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:06pm ET
Actually, they kind of misquoted me or changed the question. I was actually rejected from 30 medical schools the first time I applied. The number 10 came from after I got into medical school, when I wanted to become a neurosurgical resident and I applied to 15 to 20 programs on neurosurgery and I got 9 interviews for the neurosurgical residency.
    I got rejected from all, even though they tell you that once you get more than six interviews you are guaranteed a spot, or the odds of getting a spot are close to 100 percent. After I did not get into neurosurgery I still wanted to try again, and I figured that I would apply for a general surgery spot. I only applied to 10 general surgery spots and that's where the number 10 came from — and I didn't get into any of those either.
    Though I didn't get into medical school my first time around, I felt I had the ability, the knowledge and the fortitude to become a very good physician. Whenever I asked why I didn't get into medical school, nobody could give me a very good answer. Therefore, I still had plenty of confidence that I would make an excellent physician, given the opportunity.
    The only time I lacked confidence was knowing whether someone would give me the opportunity to become a physician, not whether I would become a good physician.
David at 2:09pm ET
After being accepted to med school at Albany Medical College, what was your next biggest challenge?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:11pm ET
My next biggest challenge was doing well in medical school. I really wanted to excel and to prove to myself and to all the doubters that I could do an excellent job. But, more importantly, I wanted to build a strong foundation to become an excellent physician. My next real hurdle, though, was applying for residency. Despite doing, in my mind, very well in medical school, there were still people who doubted my ability — solely based on my stature.
Moderator at 2:11pm ET
Sharon18 writes: "Obviously, orthopedic surgery is very demanding on your own body. How do you train your body and mind for the mental and physical demands of long surgeries? What do you do to relax when your day is over?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:12pm ET
You train your mind to do orthopedic surgery throughout all the years of training, like going through medical school and your years of residency training. It's mind over matter; if you know you need to be in surgery for 12 hours, you focus on what you're doing, you don't think about how tired you feel and you get the job done.
    What I do now for relaxation is I spend time with my family. I enjoy playing golf and doing woodworking.
Moderator at 2:14pm ET
Kathy Jones writes: "Hi Dr. Ain, this is Tara's mom. I watched the show, as did friends and family, and wanted to let you know that you were great. But then again, I always thought you were. I have a question pertaining to dwarfism. I have never told Tara about her syndrome or the fact that she is smaller (which I am sure she knows). All I have told her is that she grows different. Is this something that you think that I should do now, or should I wait until she's older?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:14pm ET
Thank you, Mrs. Mundis. I think doing what you are doing is correct — telling Tara that she might not grow as quickly as one of her friends and not grow to the same eventual height. In addition, she may have some more physical limitations than her friends. But I would go into more detail when Tara asks you more questions; let Tara be the judge of when it is appropriate.
Patti from proxy.aol.com at 2:15pm ET
Dr. Ain seems like a doctor with a wonderful bedside manner, and the kids seem to love him. Does he feel that, because of his size, he tends to relate better to kids? I think that after the show last night, people will see him in a whole new light.
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:16pm ET
I feel that I can relate very well to children. One reason is that I enjoy children and they know that. They have great insight into who is comfortable around them and who is not. Second, being small has the advantage that I am less intimidating to look at than tall adults. So I think that adds a level of comfort for them.
George from med.cornell.edu at 2:16pm ET
Besides perseverance and diligence, what other qualities do you think make a superb physician?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:17pm ET
I think those are two wonderful qualities that a physician must have. I agree with George. Another is honesty — being honest with your patients and telling them what you are capable of, and being honest to yourself, knowing whether you are the best person to take care of their ailment.
Moderator at 2:18pm ET
Dan W. Johnson writes: "Thanks for your refreshing, candid and optimistic remarks about how good it is to be a doctor! It's not often that doctors are openly happy with their jobs these days. I am a first-year med student at an osteopathic med school. As an orthopedic doctor, how often do you work with D.O.s, and have you ever used any tenets of osteopathy in your treatments?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:19pm ET
Thank you. I am very enthusiastic about being a physician. In my mind it is the best job anyone can have. In terms of working with osteopaths, there is actually an osteopathic orthopedic residency in York, Pennsylvania, that sends their residents to Hopkins to learn pediatric orthopedics. Therefore, I work daily with osteopathic physicians and I enjoy it.
Lynn at 2:20pm ET
First, I would just like to say I was so impressed and moved by your story. Has being a physician been everything you thought it would be? What is different than what you expected?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:21pm ET
Being a physician is wonderful. I always knew that it would be very difficult work. I didn't know it would be this difficult or this stressful, but I am still very happy doing it. I'll still take the stress any day.
Bill from 246.83.161.newyork2.level3.net at 2:21pm ET
Dr. Ain, can you tell us what made you decide to become a physician? Was there one moment when you knew that this was the right career for you?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:23pm ET
I don't think that there was one particular moment; I think there were many moments. As a child growing up I was a patient several times, and there were physicians who took time and were caring. You remember those special moments, and it meant a lot to me. Yet there were other physicians who lacked compassion, who didn't want to talk to you and treated you very indifferently. I thought I could be the first type of physician, and that's what drove me to it.
Susan at 2:23pm ET
What would you consider the most difficult or challenging procedure that you perform? Is the challenge due to the patients or the technical issues surrounding the procedure itself?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:24pm ET
For me, the most challenging procedures that I do are when I operate on the spine. My practice has grown to the point where I do a lot of spinal surgery. I enjoy it, but it is extremely stressful and therefore extremely challenging. The risks involved in doing spinal surgery are very large.
Moderator at 2:26pm ET
Kat writes: "Dr Ain, my daughter goes to school with a 'little person.' Since she has questions, I would like to tell her the truth. What is the average life expectancy, and what should a young child know to make her feel comfortable?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:28pm ET
Good question. To answer this question accurately, though: There are many hundreds of forms of "little people," or people with skeletal dysplasias. Therefore, the life expectancy of one particular type might be different than another. However, I would tell your daughter that I would treat this "little person" as she would treat anyone else, neither better nor worse.
Moderator at 2:28pm ET
Ron writes: "Now that you have succeeded, what advice would you give other young people facing the same obstacles & challenges that you faced in pursuing your career?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:29pm ET
What I tell other people who ask for advice is to do what they want to, to work hard and to do such a good job that nobody can say no to you. Your only limitation should be yourself; do what you want to do in life, and don't let anyone tell you different.
Bill at 2:30pm ET
Dr. Ain, what kind of progress do you think modern science will make toward treating/curing conditions such as dwarfism? If dwarfism could be prevented through genetic manipulation in the future, what is your opinion with regards this type of intervention?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:32pm ET
Modern medicine has made many advances in treating people with forms of skeletal dysplasias, both from an orthopedic point of view and from a genetic point of view, However, especially from an orthopedic point of view, we have a long way to go, and hopefully I'll be able to be involved in helping make these advances.
Erin at 2:33pm ET
Dr Ain, what types of challenges did you encounter during medical school and how did you overcome them?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:33pm ET
The challenges that I faced in medical school were no different than anyone else's.
Moderator at 2:34pm ET
Christelle asks: "Any difficulty in gaining respect among your peers?"
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:35pm ET
I think presently that my peers treat me well — as well as anyone else. If someone thinks I'm doing a good job, they treat me well. I'm treated on my ability and not based on my physical stature.
Bill from 246.83.161.newyork2.level3.net at 2:36pm ET
Dr. Ain, when you retire, what would you like to be remembered for in your career?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:37pm ET
I want to be remembered when I retire as a good, kind and caring physician, one that had a large favorable impact on many people and that maybe made some advances in treating people with orthopedic conditions.
Moderator at 2:37pm ET
Since we only have a few minutes yet, do you have any final thoughts for our audience?
Dr. Michael Ain at 2:41pm ET
The one thing I feel very strongly about is: Don't let anyone or any group of people tell you that you cannot accomplish your dreams. If they are your dreams, you can accomplish them with hard work. You just have to put your mind to it and make some sacrifices. There's nothing you can't do if you really want to do it.
    To quote Teddy Roosevelt, "It is far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checked by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."
Moderator at 2:42pm ET
Dr. Ain, thanks very much. Click here for more on ABCNEWS' Hopkins 24/7 series.


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