John “Nicky” Grimes, PhD, is a second-year student in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Medical Innovators Development Program (MIDP), a four-year PhD-to-MD training program tailored to engineers and applied scientists. The first in his family to obtain a traditional bachelor’s degree, Grimes, who holds the Glenn and Virginia Hammonds Scholarship, explains what led him to pursue both engineering and medicine.
Q. What was your early childhood like?
A. I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate and adopted when I was 5 months old. Treatment for my cleft exposed me to an array of health care professionals and ignited a lifelong love of medicine and engineering. I remember learning about UV-activated cement from my orthodontist, airflow measurement microphones from my speech pathologist and panoramic radiographs from my oral surgeon. Adoption was also incredibly important in shaping me. I was blessed with a loving family who taught me the importance of parity and inclusion.
Q. What drove your commitment to long-term education?
A. Education is another value for which I can thank my parents. Both were the first in their family to complete secondary education, saw it improve their lives and instilled its importance in me. Later, I developed an additional appreciation upon realizing that graduate education — through research and development — has the power to improve the lives of everyone.
Q. What influenced your decision to pursue both medicine and engineering?
A. I began medical school after 10 years of federal service, including as a biomedical engineer and scientific reviewer for neurological medical devices with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) while I could have been a medical innovator with that background alone, I knew a medical education would broaden my perspective and enable me to be a better innovator by having an intimate understanding of both worlds.
Q. What are your career goals?
A. I want to improve lives through medical innovation. At the FDA, I worked with small companies in the early stages of device development by helping them understand regulatory requirements, recommending testing
strategies and critically evaluating proposed clinical trial designs. However, I was unable to help patients directly. These experiences inspired me to become an active innovator and laid a unique foundation that I am
combining with a top medical education to build a career as a physician-engineer.
Q. Why did you choose Vanderbilt’s MIDP?
A. I initially feared I would have to “build my own” program to accomplish my goals. Fortunately, I learned about MIDP. No other program like it exists, and it was exactly what I had in mind. Discovering that Vanderbilt is so forward-thinking and that I was not alone in my vision of medical innovation solidified that the decision to leave federal service from a mid-career position to attend medical school was the right one.
by Kelsey Herbers