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Alumni Focus: Dan Keller ’12 Says 'Yes' to Medical School after German Surgical Internship

by John Syme
Dan Keller
“I’d find myself suturing patients with the same technique I’d used to mix batter the day before.” (Photo: Reinhard Bschorer)

Dan Keller '12 came to Davidson for just one reason: everything.

"I didn't want to limit my options," Keller said of his choice to study the liberal arts and sciences at Davidson.

And indeed, between 2008 and his present gap year before medical school, Keller's interests and career options ranged all over the map, from exploring the business side of NASCAR to a surgical internship in Germany. Davidson was a perfect fit from the start, just down the road from Mooresville, N.C. ("Race City, USA") and boasting a top-tier pre-medical program.

A Terry Fellow, Keller loved his four years at Davidson, an experience that included pursuing even more options: volunteering at a local free clinic, resident advising, participating in the croquet national championship and chairing the Honor Council. He was a pre-medical student and a psychology major.

After graduation, he worked a year for the N.C. Association of Free Clinics. During that time, he put his critical thinking skills to the test, weighing the long-term possibilities of a business career in NASCAR alongside the rigors of a medical career-all while writing a $2 million grant proposal for the association, among other duties.

"I learned the difference between being passionate about a sport and being passionate about working in a sport," he said of his NASCAR career explorations.

At about the same time, Keller learned of a surgical internship opportunity in the practice of Reinhard Bschorer, a Davidson parent and surgeon in Schwerin, Germany. Keller spoke with Catherine Wood '13, who had interned with Bschorer the previous summer.

"She told me, ‘You'll come out of it knowing for certain if you want to be a doctor,'" Keller recalled.

The internship with Bschorer is just one example of the kinds of shadowing and internship opportunities available to Davidson pre-med students, said Paul B. Freeland Professor of Biology and Pre-Medical Program Director Jerry Putnam. The international possibilities are particularly useful for students to compare and analyze healthcare delivery systems around the world.

"A knee is a knee, whether it's in the United States or Africa or Germany," Putnam pointed out.

Dan Keller
In his off hours from his surgical internship in Reinhard Bschorer’s operating room, Dan Keller ’12 learned German baking by apprenticing in Bschorer’s kitchen. (Photo: Reinhard Bschorer)

Keller was ready for his big German adventure, except for one thing: an abiding aversion to international travel.

"When I was in high school, I went on a China trip with the Washington, D.C. Youth Orchestra," he said, recalling a fraught tale of language barriers, social isolation, travel mix-ups and other horrors. "I was too young to appreciate getting out of my comfort zone, so there was no way I wanted to study abroad at Davidson!"

So he didn't. But in the post-graduate gap summer of 2013, push came to shove, so he swallowed hard and shoved himself on a plane. Within an hour of arriving in Schwerin, he was scrubbed and in Bschorer's operating room. Then, jet-lagged and hungry, Keller got woozy in the OR, and lost and broke his borrowed bike on the way back to his apartment.

After that inauspicious start, however, a good night's sleep and a hearty meal had restored him to full function, and Keller soon was assisting in maxillo-facial surgeries in ways he would not have been able to in the United States. In his off hours, he took field trips with team surgeons to Schwerin's famed Golden Castle and learned German baking by apprenticing in Bschorer's kitchen.

"He was like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid– ‘wax on, wax off'–except he was teaching me to make cinnamon rolls and pretzels and translating it to surgery. He'd tell me to keep my elbows in and that it's all in the wrists. He even got me to change hands sometimes. I'd find myself suturing patients with the same technique I'd used to mix batter the day before," said Keller.

"Catherine was right: now I am 100 percent sure about medicine," said Keller, who is currently applying to medical school. "And it's not just about the actual surgery. I fell in love with the process of medicine: patient relationships, research, surgery, teaching, all of it."

What specific path will be his? Right now, Keller is keeping his options open.