Justin Brooten remembers the exact moment he decided to become a doctor. It was the summer of 2000, and he was training to become an EMT at Jackson County Hospital in Marianna, Fla., when a little boy with a broken arm was brought to the ER.
Brooten looked on as the boy’s nervous father and younger brother watched the doctor sedate him to realign his arm. Afterwards, the boy’s father pointed to before and after X-ray images mounted on a lighted wall, and explained to his youngest “how the doctor fixed [his brother’s] arm.”
That moment struck Brooten to the core. “It is difficult to describe an adjective for how I felt,” said Brooten. “The doctor came in, did something real fast and that was that. It was one of those realizations that was really palpable to me, like ‘wow, medicine really does impact the lives of other people’.”
But still, instead of jumping straight into med school, the now married 32-year-old from Gainesville, Fla., did a little soul searching before committing to medicine. Brooten, whose father was a medical malpractice defense attorney, said that growing up he thought about becoming a doctor but wasn’t sure the lifestyle was for him. “My dad, being a very successful lawyer, traveled a lot, and the physicians he worked with didn’t have the balance of family life that I wanted to have someday,” said Brooten. “That definitely steered me away from medicine.”
Brooten explored several paths after graduating in 2002 with a biochemistry degree from the University of Florida. He first tried his hand teaching middle school science, and though he enjoyed interacting with students, he still felt like something was missing in his life. As a spiritual person, Brooten considered becoming a pastor but going to seminary school wasn’t an option due to his teaching schedule.
Eventually, Brooten quit his teaching job and became an EMT because he thought it would give him enough flexibility to pursue pastoral training. Instead, his experiences as an emergency technician rekindled his desire to make medicine his life’s work.
Before applying to medical school, Brooten first discussed his plans with his wife. “My first reaction when Justin told me he wanted to go to medical school was ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to do this?’” said Amy Brooten. But regardless of the challenges school might pose to their marriage, Amy knew medicine was the right path for her husband.
“My husband is passionate about people, science, and learning and this profession allows him to utilize three of his greatest strengths,” she said. “His spirituality also helps him stay grounded and encourages continual personal growth– traits I think are ideal for a doctor to have.”
As for Brooten’s initial fear about sacrificing family for his career, that has since dissipated. “Now that I’m doing something I love, I feel like the time I spend with my wife is more fruitful,” he said. Brooten and his wife plan on having children when he is done with his second year of residency. And so that he still has time for family, he wants to pursue a career in academic medicine, a demanding combination of teaching, research and practice that offers more regular hours than some specialties. Additionally, as a professor, Brooten hopes to travel and take students to help underserved populations abroad.
But ultimately Brooten says his decision to study medicine was driven not only by his desire to help others, but also by the need to fulfill his life’s purpose. “ I feel like I was given certain abilities and opportunities for a reason,” Brooten said. “To me, you’re most fulfilled where you feel you use the gifts you’ve been given to the greatest extent, and that’s what I thought medicine would allow me to do.”