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  • Brian Haimerl Photo in front of Building Three

    The Brian Haimerl Story

    Watch the full story of the Jersey native's journey, here.

Living Life with Arms Wide Open - SOMC Student Brian Haimerl Makes Most of Time in Columbia

“Live your life with arms wide open, today is, where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.”

Three simple lines from hit song “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield. A song often belted at the top of the lungs of 2024 M.D. graduate Brian Haimerl during his best karaoke sets in Columbia.

While the song may simply be a part of Haimerl’s set of hobbies when not studying for exams and working hard in the clinical environment, the lines themselves seem to be a metaphor for how Haimerl has approached both his life and his time as a medical student at the School of Medicine Columbia.

Medicine Found Him

A native of Medford, N.J., Haimerl is the son of an engineer and a math teacher and didn’t initially have an interest in medicine.

A love of the basic sciences and lab research, yes, but early on, pursuing med school was never a true thought. It wasn’t until a life altering event that changed his perception of the field and brought it to the forefront of his mind.

“When I was a senior in high school, I had a really bad break in my arm. I broke my radius and ulna, and I had to get emergency surgery, and another surgery after that,” Haimerl recalled. “My orthopedic surgeon was this young guy who I connected with, and he made the experience not as terrible as it could be.

“From there we formed a relationship and I started shadowing him and it kind of confirmed that this seems like a great field. I love people. And medicine lets me deal with people, so it was just the perfect fit.”

USC x1

After recovering, Haimerl was brought to Columbia earlier than many of his peers, attending the University of South Carolina as an undergraduate student and earning a degree in biology as part of the class of 2019.

When the time came to choose his next steps, he knew the place where he found a home away from home as an undergrad is where he wanted to remain, even if med school wasn’t the immediate destination.

“I had a great time at USC. I loved all my classes, I met great friends and I love the city, so when I knew I was going to do med school, I wanted to stay in the area.

“At the time, I didn't think I was ready to go straight into med school. I felt like my study strategies that may have gotten me by in undergrad weren't probably up to par with med school, so I didn't apply right out of college.

“I heard about the certificate program at the School of Medicine and it seemed like a great way to take the classes that I might be taking in med school and have a year to work on my study skills,” Haimerl recalled.

USC x2

After completing a gap year in Columbia, taking classes and volunteering in the health care industry, Haimerl began his second stint at USC, pursuing the field of medicine amidst a global pandemic that pushed a would-be-close-knit group of students, apart.

“It was definitely a challenging time starting M-I year in the of middle of the COVID 19 pandemic,” he said. “We were obviously masking in school, and the anatomy lab was somewhat restricted as far as quantity of people. We also weren't in the classroom every day where we would be normally, and we couldn't socialize as much as we can now. It was really tough the first year to meet everyone.”

Post-COVID Growth

I learned early that I was supposed to be here and I always had to force myself to remember that. Looking back, the amount of growth I’ve experienced since my M-I year has been amazing, but I’ve also learned some of the simple things too. If you bust your butt, treat people well and don’t compare yourself to others, you will be a great physician.

Brian Haimerl - M.D. Class of 2024

Following a first year filled with some uncertainty both in and out of the classroom, the Class of 2024 returned to campus for the 2021-22 academic year, ready to learn and lead each other, this time in person, led in part by Haimerl.

“During my M-II year, I was elected president of the Medical Student Association, which is the largest student organization on campus,” Haimerl said. “It’s more so a social or well-being centered organization that aims to design events where we can take a break from work and socialize.

“That was honestly a great experience. I loved doing it, because I'm a very social person, and I think that might have been what my class noticed a little bit first year and how I got there.”

Along with his role in bringing his class of students together, socially, the Jersey native was also a leader in the classroom, acting as an academic support leader for the medical anatomy class.

It was an experience that he calls, “career defining” and was his first look and exposure toward being pushed in the direction of academics and teaching. A segment of medicine that while new, was not something he was unfamiliar with.

“I come from a family of teachers. My mom was a teacher, my grandfather was teacher, I have aunts and uncles who were teachers, so I grew up in that environment, but for some reason, I never thought I was going to be a teacher. Then, that academic support experience made me realize that I think that's what I want to do, at least in some part of my career,” Haimerl summarized.

After passing his Step One exam, Haimerl stepped into the unwritten clinical environment.

Brian Haimerl at Match Day

Into the Clinic

After battling through some of the fear and uneasiness that comes with entering the clinical space for the first time, Haimerl found both a love with the field of internal medicine and a specialty in pulmonary critical care.

“My leading theory right now or interest is pulmonary critical care. I spent combined in third- and fourth-year, six weeks in the medical ICU, and it really was my favorite place to be. You get to see so many different things: infectious disease, pulmonary, cardiology, all these different pathologies. But the pathology is acute, and it's complicated. These patients usually have a lot wrong with them, or a lot of different medical conditions,” Haimerl said.

“Another thing that drew me to it is, the importance of having a good bedside manner, being able to interact with the family as well. As I said earlier, I'm a people person, and really half of what drew me into medicine, along with the science, was the people. Getting to make these meaningful connections, and supporting them in what's probably the hardest days of their life is difficult, but when you see it help them it's really meaningful,” Haimerl added.

After finding his initial interest in Internal Medicine as an M-III, his time during his acting internship as an M-IV is what solidified his passion for the field.

“I loved my time during my M-IV acting internship in the internal medicine wards of Prisma. It was really important for my growth to be the pretty much primary point of care for the patient. Like I had as much autonomy as I wanted with always a safety net," Haimerl said.

Work/Life Balance

Haimerl found his passion, specialty and lifelong friends, but likely one of the most important reasons for the double Carolina grad being able to find and execute all of these things was his commitment to finding the balance needed in his life.

On top of belting the lyrics of “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield, Haimerl was a regular hooper at the basketball courts at the Strom Fitness Center on main campus, he was a notable attendee to Carolina football games on Saturday’s and could often be found putting together group meetups not only with his class, but those students above and below him at the SOMC.

“I am a big believer of work hard play hard,” he said. “While you need to work hard, and medical school is very difficult and rigorous, you still need to be able to take care of yourself. Whether that be reading or just hanging out with friends playing board games, or going out for a couple beers, or playing basketball and working out. I really think that taking time for yourself outside of your 10 hours a day studying or whatever it be, is super important to maximize the efficiency of that studying. I don't think you can be successful without the breaks in your day, which is a big part of my philosophy.”

To the Volunteer State

As an M-IV, Brian—like all SOMC students—was given the chance to do an away rotation to see a different hospital and work with a new set of clinical faculty. He chose Vanderbilt, and completed his rotation within their ICU.

“That experience really solidified for me what I wanted my next stop to be and my goal of obtaining a fellowship in pulmonary/critical care,” Haimerl said.

With an unwritten future ahead, Haimerl entered Match Day on March 15 knowing he was going to match somewhere, but hopeful for another opportunity to work alongside some of the best practitioners in the world in Nashville.

“Vanderbilt University Medical Center is going to be my number one choice for internal medicine residency,” Haimerl said. “I always dreamed of going to a big academic center and Vanderbilt checks those boxes. It has amazing research opportunities, world renowned teaching, amazing breadth of pathologies and it doesn't hurt that it's Nashville which is an awesome city. I went there a couple times in undergrad and I'm a live music, Stan so, it really feels like a great place to end up.”

When the clock struck noon, Haimerl discovered that his top choice, chose him. Ahead of him will be a 3+ year experience in the music capital of the world learning under some of the best in medicine, while teaching the generation after the lessons he learned on his own journey.

Brian Haimerl and his family

The Final Steps

Back in May, Haimerl--like his fellow M-IV's--tied up his loose ends and walked across the stage, this time as Dr. Brian Haimerl.

With that moment came a second moment, this one of reflection.

Reflection of the people who made it happen, the experiences that shaped him and his unwavering desire to live each day and each moment with his arms fully wide open, as the next book in his journey begins.

“I learned early that I was supposed to be here and I always had to force myself to remember that,” Haimerl said. “Looking back, the amount of growth I’ve experienced since my M-I year has been amazing, but I’ve also learned some of the simple things too. If you bust your butt, treat people well and don’t compare yourself to others, you will be a great physician.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.