Jeremy Cutsforth-Gregory was never one for limiting the scope or range of his ambitions. He managed to complete three honors degrees during his time at Oregon State University, graduating summa cum laude in 2005 with an HBS in biochemistry and biophysics and HBAs in international studies and Spanish (plus a minor in chemistry for good measure). Now, he balances clinical, research and teaching at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. In 2018, Jeremy was named an Alumni Fellow of the Honors College by the Oregon State University Alumni Association.
“I liked so many things I had 300 credits when I graduated [from Oregon State],” Jeremy remembers. “It was fun.” Working with Dr. Frank Moore from the Department of Integrative Biology, Jeremy was able to combine his interests in biology and international studies for his honors thesis. He researched skin pigment receptors, which have been preserved in the evolutionary process, remaining the same from zebra fish through humans, and addressed how migration patterns in humans could be tracked by looking at gene patterns.
Even with the heavy course load, Jeremy was also able to study abroad, spending a year in Ecuador, where, because of his interest in medicine, he was placed with a host family in which the father was a physician. “I volunteered with a diabetes clinic twice a week. I couldn’t have just shown up in Ecuador and had that experience – the infrastructure at OSU supported that.”
Jeremy knew that he wanted to apply to medical school after graduation, but he decided to first take a year off. It ended up being unexpectedly impactful.
“Medical school was always the goal,” Jeremy says. “Between working in the SLUG (when it was a dark basement in Strand Hall) and as a TA, I wasn’t ready to put together a good application. I was going to be a language editor for scientific journals – I was already doing that on the side. I was back in Pendleton, and the night before school started, the principal of the high school called me. He had been my English teacher. He said, ‘We have one math class that doesn’t have a teacher,’ and I said, ‘I have no teaching experience!’ I talked to my mom [who was an elementary school teacher] about it, started teaching in a day and spent the year just keeping my head above water. But at the end of the year, I thought: ‘That was hard work, but that was fun.’”
That year gave him the opportunity to gain teaching experience, but it also led to a major realization: if he could balance teaching and practicing medicine, he could not only help patients in the here-and-now, but also help train the next generation of physicians.
As he was teaching, he was also putting together his medical school applications to top medical schools, including the Mayo Medical School (now called the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science), the most selective medical program in the country.
The diversity of his experiences at Oregon State and in the Honors College positioned him well for success and influenced his ultimate decision to attend – and then start his career at – Mayo. “There’s something about the intimacy and depth of discussions that come through small classes like colloquia in topics you never would have considered. Seeing those creative and innovative things in an academic curriculum influenced me to try innovative things or view things differently in my career…. Maybe it could have happened elsewhere, but it’s hard to imagine. Being at Oregon State made it happen. The Honors College, affordable tuition, friendly interdepartmental communication – it led me to look at Mayo medical school, which is also a small environment with big resources. It felt a lot like the Honors College.”
Now Jeremy is a senior associate consultant in the Mayo Clinic Department of Neurology and an assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. Jeremy guides new medical students through their first experiences in neurology and also directs the third-year clerkship, when medical students rotate through different disciplines. He is also working on developing a residents-as-teachers curriculum.
His work in education impacts the other half of his time, when he sees patients. He says a patient recently wrote him a note which summarized his approach. It was addressed to, “the teacher who’s also a neurologist.” “I do a lot of teaching with patients,” Jeremy says. “Giving them information about their disease empowers them,” allowing patients to recognize symptoms or note changes.
The willingness to innovate and try new things is one of the main legacies from his time in the Honors College, and he encourages current students to take advantage of every opportunity they have. “Go outside your comfort zone and seek an experience different from what you’ve had before. That might mean lab research or an internship with a company; for me it was studying abroad for a year. But your perspective changes. I think it’s a deliberate practice to put yourself in situations in which you’re not quite comfortable but not overwhelmed.”
By Kevin Stoller: Director of External Relations and Operations, Honors College