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He Leaves Behind His ‘Country’ Roots for a Neurology Residency at Wake Forest

Austin Browning grew up in Scott, GA, a town of about 150 people—mostly farmers, welders, and mechanics who were born and raised there and never left. As a younger boy, he envisioned his future in welding and agriculture, but he did the calculations and believed that finding a professional path might provide more financial autonomy.


Austin Browning

He enrolled in Kennesaw State University and majored in mechanical engineering, but within a few years, he switched to nursing. By spring 2019, with his nursing degree in hand, it was clear he wanted more. He wanted to know about the inner workings of the human body and the puzzles sickness presented, but he wasn't sure that nursing would be the road to get there.

“I am used to a lack of resources, but I decided that I wanted the ability to make sound decisions about the patients I would be treating,” Austin explained. He applied only to Mercer Medical School and was accepted. His schooling began in the coastal town of Savannah, GA, one of several Mercer campuses. He took his nursing boards in the third month of medical school, and by the sixth month, his studies went virtual as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Austin returned home, spent his medical school days on Zoom, and worked nights and weekends as a nurse.

“I was always the kind of person who would think, ‘I can do this? Why not?’” he said.

By the time Austin finished his rotations, he had to choose a future in OB/GYN, general surgery, or neurology. As a child, he watched his godfather use a wheelchair after a thoracic spinal injury that occurred during an on-base truck accident while he served in the Air Force. Austin's godfather had bilateral paralysis of his lower extremities, bowel and bladder problems, damage to the thermoregulatory sweating function, as well as spasticity and hyperreflexia of the lower extremities.

Austin became interested in the brain because of his godfather's experience, but Mercer did not have a neurology core, and the electives were only in outpatient clinics. Austin applied to an inpatient rotation at Wake Forest Medical Center in North Carolina, and that month of experience sealed the deal. He also credits his focus on neurology to his long talks with Stephen Donahue, MD, of Savannah, who shared what life would be like as a neurologist.

Austin's parents were shocked when he told them he planned to apply to a neurology residency program in Colorado. Most of his extended family had never even been on a plane. “They were nervous,” he said. “I was a country boy taking on a big city.”

Austin had a few schools in his sight, and at the top of his list was University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. And that is where he matched.