Student Spotlight: Joshua Cockrum

Joshua Cockrum (’23) remembers clearly the day he received the telephone call notifying him that he’d been accepted to the Lerner College of Medicine. “It was April thirtieth, a beautiful day, and I was sitting with my family. It was one of the best days of my life,” he says, recalling that when he had first told his parents about CCLCM, given its small class size and free tuition, he did not expect to be accepted.

Josh, born and raised in Michigan, comes from a family of engineers in the auto industry, and he himself has an affinity for technology. He attended the University of Michigan for biomedical engineering and after graduation took a job at a medical device company as a reliability and safety engineer, working on new product development including deep brain stimulation devices.

After about a year, his then-girlfriend, Christina (now his wife), expressed an interest in applying to medical school.
“I started to like the idea of leaving engineering and taking a chance at medical school,” he says. “I’m a social person and wanted to see the impact that medical devices have on patients.”

Josh applied to medical schools throughout the Midwest, while at the same time working at a start-up business in Ann Arbor, developing neurovascular devices for stroke patients. “I spent a lot of time at hospitals, offering industry perspectives to medical teams,” he says.

CCLCM was particularly appealing to Josh because of the tremendous dedicated research time, which has allowed him to continue working on biomedical engineering projects. “Having this year of research experience has allowed me to develop a skill set that will carry me my whole career,” says Josh.

During his time at CCLCM, he has pursued a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and discovered a passion for medical imaging. He’s taken classes in deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI), which can be used to distill information from hundreds of imaging scans to help diagnose and stratify disease risk.

During his thesis year, he focused on cardiac amyloidosis (aka the great pretender), a rare disease often mistaken for others, and presented his work at the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance and American College of Cardiology.

Josh worked as a data scientist with Deborah Kwon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Cardiac MRI at Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues to develop machine learning algorithms to diagnose and stratify risk in patients with cardiac amyloidosis. The group has begun presenting its findings at conferences and in published papers.

Josh entered medical school knowing that wanted to be a surgeon, to be as close to patients as possible. “That trust is incredible,” he says. “It epitomizes why I chose medicine, to provide fully for patients. Surgeons not only get to follow patients longitudinally in some cases, but also get to perform interventions when necessary. It’s that full spectrum of care that I find interesting.”

Through the outstanding mentorship of Steven Campbell, MD, Josh decided to specialize in urology. “I serendipitously ended up on urology rotation, and after a day in clinic with him and interacting with patients, I decided I wanted to do what he does. He has such a positive relationship with patients, and he was so supportive,” says Josh.

Josh has also been profoundly impressed by his CCLCM classmates. His class was the last to be housed in the close-knit quarters of the Lerner Building and the first to move into the expansive Health Education Campus. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all the students had to transition to virtual learning. Now they’re back on campus and seeing patients on the hospital wards.

“The students faced a lot of transitions over the past few years, yet they accepted every challenge,” he says.

Josh’s wife, Christina, is now a first-year resident in Ob/Gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, a reasonably short commute from Cleveland. When he’s not commuting, Josh relaxes by playing board games — the more complex, the better — with friends.

When asked about how his family of engineers feels about him becoming a physician, he says they’re very supportive. “They finally have a doctor in the family to ask about all their health problems,” he says with a laugh.