My LopeLife: Missionary work inspired alum on his journey to medical school

After Brian Durbin heard about a physician at a ministry conference who spent two years at an underserved hospital in Nepal, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

EDITOR'S NOTE: My LopeLife is a feature in which GCU students, staff and alumni share enlightening experiences. To be considered for My LopeLife, please email a short synopsis of your suggested topic to [email protected] with “My LopeLife” in the subject field. This article originally appeared in the April issue of GCU Magazine. See the digital version here.

By Brian Durbin

The pathway to your future is never a straight line.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my time at Grand Canyon University: to always be flexible in case of a bend in the road.

As a kid, I grew up surrounded by family who worked in the medical field. My physician father practiced internal medicine. My mother, a registered nurse, became a stay-at-home mom. Many of my uncles, aunts and cousins also pursued health care careers.

Durbin (third from right, back row) has a heart for missionary work. He'll begin his medical studies soon. (Contributed photo)

So no one in my family would have been surprised if I followed the same course.

But after high school, I ended up attending a ministry college in upstate New York called Word of Life Bible Institute. I wanted to go into a career of vocational ministry so I could share my faith and serve as a missionary overseas.

In my second year, I attended a ministry conference and heard about a physician whose journey took him on a two-year, post-residency program at an underserved hospital in Nepal. I listened to the individual’s stories, saw images of the hospital, and developed a singular goal: to one day be a part of it.

After a few conversations with important mentors in my life, I shifted my college major from biblical studies to biology. Unfortunately, the ministry school I attended did not offer a biology program.

That’s when the road started to bend and my journey at GCU began.

In fall 2020, I moved across the country to attend GCU as an honors pre-med student. COVID-19 protocols at the time limited many of the tutoring services and community events that would have otherwise been available. I struggled to adjust academically and socially to my new environment. I had moved away from all my close friends at Word of Life and felt isolated in my new city.

In my first year at GCU, I questioned the choice I had made many times. But during these moments of self-doubt, I reminded myself of the goal I had set when I decided to pursue this path.

Eventually, I made a few likeminded friends in the Honors College who were also pursuing a pre-med degree.

While eating lunch one weekend, they told me about an opportunity to travel to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, for a medical mission trip for honors students.

This was the opportunity I was waiting for.

Durbin (second from right, back row) has served on several medical mission trips to Mexico with the Honors College. (Contributed photo)

It was my first chance to put into practice my goal; I wasted no time signing up.

In late April 2021, our team traveled to Mexico, where we assisted the local health care community by conducting home visits and setting up free clinics in underserved neighborhoods.

The experience was transformative.

By observing local medical providers, I got a taste of how intangible qualities, such as compassion and empathy, are used in the clinical setting. In addition, I developed a deep appreciation for the importance of cultural humility when interacting with individuals from a different ethnic background.

This trip confirmed that I had chosen the right path in pursuing medicine and cemented my trajectory for the remainder of my undergraduate years. Since then, I have continued to pursue various opportunities to enhance my understanding of the medical field.

In 2022, I led a team of students back to Mexico for my second medical mission trip. It was just as powerful as the first. It allowed me to further grow as an individual with a desire to serve underserved populations.

In the same year, I became a Helios Scholar research intern at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, better known as TGen. That internship has led to a full-time position as a research technician. I have spent the past two years conducting research centered around developing novel drugs for cancer patients.

Durbin was a Helios Scholar research intern for the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which led to a full-time position as a research technician. (Contributed photo)

I began volunteering in my senior year at Phoenix’s Neighborhood Christian Clinic. The clinic is a charitable institution dedicated to delivering accessible health care to the uninsured, a significant portion of whom are Spanish speaking. Whether I’m sharing a lighthearted moment with a patient laughing about my modest Spanish skills or rejoicing in the achievements of someone successfully managing their health, I realize that each of these instances offers a chance to exercise the qualities of compassion and empathy. 

This year, I applied and was accepted into Creighton University’s Doctor of Medicine program here in Phoenix.

The path I took to get to medical school was by no means straightforward. I started my college career on the opposite end of the academic spectrum, but as I have discovered, I needed to be flexible to discover who I am – to find my purpose – and to always be prepared for that bend in the road.


About Brian Durbin

Brian Durbin, who graduated from GCU in 2023 with his undergraduate degree in biology, is an adjunct biology lab instructor at GCU. He came to the university from his hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, in 2020. In addition to teaching, he works full time at TGen, where he researches drugs that are being developed to fight cancer. His heart is to help the underserved, especially on mission trips. He has served on several mission trips, including to Guatemala and Mexico.


Related content:

GCU News: TGen intern finds joy in research, Honors trips

GCU News: Symposium intertwines passion with vocation

GCU News: From rocket design to AI, research program gives undergrads a boost


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GCU Magazine

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(King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:) "How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears." (2 Samuel 7:22)

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