If all goes according to plan, one day Homer native Ben Kuhns will be a doctor. However, before deciding to pursue a medical career, he was a slope worker, crab fisherman and a gold miner. This was all after he graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forensic science, of course.
“I tried to get the whole Alaska experience because I didn’t know when I’d be able to get that experience again,” Kuhns said. “I was paid dividends not only in it gives you life experience but you’re able to have conversations with people and relate to people.”
Though his goals changed over the years, science is the grounding force in his career path, Kuhns said.
“I’ve always been interested in science. My father and my mother always wanted me to … be successful and good at what I put my mind to and to be a professional at whatever job I decided to go into,” Kuhns said. “I would say the main reason it really put me towards medicine was not only my love for science, but I enjoy figuring out things that are on the microscopic level.
Friends and family members’ personal experiences with medical problems also steered Kuhns toward a career as a doctor. The brother of his former girlfriend had a four-wheeler accident that rendered him paraplegic, but now continues to gold mine despite his physical challenges. Parents of friends were diagnosed with different diseases. Hitting closest to home, Kuhns lost his older sister Kate Kuhns to a brain tumor when he was 18. Although Kate’s death played a role in Kuhn’s decision to attend medical school, he didn’t realize what role until he got deep into medical school, Kuhns said.
“I didn’t really realize it until I got into medical school, when I started shadowing other doctors, that people can get lost in routine. … I’m really good friends with the doctor that took care of my sister and I’m not in any way shape or form throwing any type of blame out there,” Kuhns said. “I know you can’t fix every patient, but I want the opportunity to be there for the next time it happens.”
The town of Homer helped shape Kuhns to be the man he is today, in line with the adage about taking a village to raise a child, he said.
“It really is a quaint town and there are so many people that have helped shape me along the way,” Kuhns said. “From my elementary school teachers all the way through high school teachers. I have to say thanks to them for supplying me with a solid base of knowledge. Then there are my coaches in high school who always pushed me through practice to excel and never give up during the tough times. All of the family friends that have supported me throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood.”
His father, Homer Police Department Sergeant Lary Kuhns, noted that Kuhns has always been compassionate, coupled with a high IQ. His son has always felt compelled to help his community and try and make things better, Lary said.
“Ben’s never taken an easy pass. He recognizes that any thing significant requires an investment of himself,” Lary said. “He knows you gotta get educated and how much education is valuable … He’s tried to be a problem solver, not a problem maker. I think his compassion for folks is a lot of that.”
When Kuhns entered Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica, West Indies, an accredited medical school for U.S. doctors in the Caribbean, he was considered a non-traditional student. He entered the required Medical Education Readiness Program, which he attributes to his success at medical school. After completing MERP with an above average score, he applied for an received the MERP scholar award that covered the approximately $15,000 cost of the MERP program. During his first two years of medical school, Kuhns made the dean’s list every semester.
Kuhns starts his sixth semester of medical school next week and is doing rotations at Atlanta Medical Center. His first rotation in trauma surgery piqued his interest, and he is considering becoming a surgeon, while keeping an open mind.
“I found this out that when somebody comes to you they’re coming in such a need for help,” Kuhns said. “They’re coming to you because you’re supposed to help them out of this bad situation they’re in. The feeling I get to give to others pushed me that way … I’m loving the heck out of surgery.”