Daniel Rittle, Class of 2022

Each story is unique, intimate, and powerful. Readers, please come open-minded and ready to engage with the following stories. More importantly, be ready to interface with an intimate space and allow yourself to step inside someone else’s life. The following is the narrative of Daniel Rittle, an MD-PhD student, M2 at KUMC.

Can you provide a one-minute summary of your life?

I am a second year MD-PhD candidate here at the University of Kansas. Prior to joining the program, I was trained as an engineer, with a minor in architecture, at Washington University in St. Louis from 2014 to 2018. Perhaps unsurprisingly given my background, I tend to think of myself as both a thinker and creative problem solver, with some of the most substantial driving factors in my life being both my faith and my family.

From this opportunity as an MD/PhD candidate and future physician scientist, I hope to benefit the world, both medicinally and academically, through my future research with emphasis on developing a greater understanding of the realm of psychological health.

If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

I think I would describe myself as peaceable, in part because I do not relish or find joy in conflict. I tend to see conflict as an indication of a problem, and thus I see conflict as an impetus for change; a need for a resolution and a solution to a problem. Consequently, I tend to prefer to try and bring peace when there’s conflict, which is part of why I’m pursuing a career in health care research.

What do you do in your free time?

Most of my time outside of academics and student organization leadership is spent at church. When it’s not spent there, I will usually spend it drawing, designing digital images, or pursuing other types of visual artistry.

What are you passionate about?

While a bit redundant, I am definitely passionate about my faith. Additionally, I am passionate about thinking, helping others, and bringing that peace and wholeness.

What is something most people don’t know about?

In the past, and now to a lesser extent, I fold origami pieces, both based on existing patterns as well as original designs.

What inspires you?

The inspiring forces I have found that compel me to act are (1) need and (2) being of help. If I am left to my own devices, I believe I will operate more or less on autopilot and provide little to nothing of value to others. However, an opportunity to think deeply about something and contribute, especially if that opportunity comes in the form of a need, has a profound energizing effect on me to act. As such, I believe need and merely having the opportunity to help others with the gifts I have are major sources of inspiration for me.

What is your journey into medicine?

My journey started in 12th grade when I was taking AP Biology. During the time leading to the course, I reasoned that I enjoy both physics and chemistry, I will almost certainly pursue some form of engineering. but I do not have a sense for biology. The instructor that taught our AP Biology course was one of the best teachers that had taught me to that point, which, I believe, developed a sincere enjoyment for the class. I was therefore convinced that I should pursue a form of engineering that involves biology, which led to my consideration of biomedical engineering along with the mechanical and materials engineering that I was already contemplating. At that time, I was between going to Missouri S&T and Washington University in St. Louis (i.e., Wash U) for my undergraduate degree, a decision that would undoubtedly have a profound impact on the trajectory of my career.  I knew from various reporting agencies that Wash U housed the stronger biomedical engineering program, while S&T housed the stronger mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering programs, so, the type of engineering I would pursue depended heavily on where I was accepted. Upon being accepted to Wash U, I pursued their engineering strength in biomedical engineering (i.e., BME). Unfortunately, the passion for biology was strained during the second semester of my freshman year; nonetheless, I certainly maintained the enjoyment I had for physics and chemistry.

While still a youngster in the BME program (i.e., just finishing freshman year), one of my advisors pointedly suggested that I may want to consider medicine. As someone who’s 5th grade self had been at a loss for what would drive an individual to pursue a career as a doctor, I was skeptical of this suggestion. Retrospectively, I find the circumstances quite humorous, given that Wash U is often known more for their medical school than their other programs. So, hearing that advice from my advisor was nothing that should have surprised me, but I’m glad that he suggested the idea and that I opted to give medicine a fair shake. As an aside, I am also happy to share that my perceptions have changed quite drastically from my 5th grade mentality.

During my sophomore year, I took MedPrep 1, which was Wash U’s intro-to-medicine-without-being-in-medicine-yet class. Based on my favorable experience therein, I realized that, with a major in biomedical engineering, I only needed four extra courses to fulfill all of the pre-med requirements. On the bases of keeping options open and the feasibility of working four courses into my remaining time at Wash U, I started pursuing a pre-med track. Then, during junior year, I began to recognize a developing and palpable desire to go into medicine, as long as the side of medicine I experienced was research oriented. As a result, I applied for both PhD programs and a few MD-PhD programs.

In the spring of my senior year at Wash U, I received my acceptance to join the MD/PhD program here at KU, and I was, and still am, quite ecstatic about it. Reflecting on the past year, this true beginning of my experience in medicine has not been without its surprises,  but I am glad that everything, from AP Bio to my experiences in the Class of 2022 until the PhD phase, transpired the way it did, and I look forward to what the future in medicine has to hold.

What are your future hopes in medicine?

Well, something that’s been a more pressing research interest in my mind pertains strongly to the childhood my father experienced. When he was younger (i.e., still in elementary school), he lost his mother to mental health difficulties – she suffered from what was then called Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID) in conjunction with dementia. When she was in her “right mind”, she was an amazing person, someone whose presence was relished. But when she was not in her “right mind”, she was a completely different person, someone whose presence made falling asleep a much riskier behavior. So seeing how devastating both that condition and the aftermath that followed her passing was for my father and his family, I would love to see that disorder, along with other such disorders of personality, cease to have such a profound impact on both the people who suffer and their loved ones. As such, I would be thrilled to contribute in identifying and developing treatments for the root cause of DID and other personality disorders. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will see the day when these disorders no longer hold sway, but that those who had found themselves afflicted would find liberty and peace from their suffering. It is for that aim I pursue.

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