Salt Lake City, UT
Balamurali Ambati’s dream came true at age 17 years and 294 days: to be the youngest doctor in the world. On May 19, 1995, he graduated from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, claiming the “world’s youngest doctor” title in the Guinness World Records that originally belonged to an 18-year-old Israeli graduate from University of Perugia.
This prodigy has been quite accomplished from such a young age, growing up in a household with his “biggest inspirations”: his mother, Gomathi Rao, a math teacher and his father, Ambati Murati, an industrial engineer. When Ambati was 3, his family and him moved to Buffalo, New York. Ambati’s drive to become a doctor became ingrained in his mind after getting treated for burns on his legs from hot water at age 4. Spending three months in the hospital, he said that “time instilled how important doctors were.”
Two years later, he started school at age 6 in South Carolina, but in just two weeks he was placed in second grade. This fact should come as no surprise as he was completing calculus problems when he was 4 years old. He also co-wrote a research book with his elder brother Jaya on the topic of AIDS and graduated from high school in Baltimore at age 11. Around this age, Ambati learned about the 18-year-old Israeli who was the current Guinness World Record holder; his parents and him realized “it was possible to beat that record” and started working towards that goal.
Though studying at an advanced pace, Ambati did not face an easy road. While growing up and attending schools, he faced a lot of “resistance” from administrators. Many were skeptical to let him study at a higher level; his parents had to “try open a lot of doors” so their ambitious child could study at an accelerated pace. He started showing interest in biology and life sciences, which “cemented his commitment to medicine”, he said. Determined to not let the rules get in his academic pursuits, Ambati applied to nine medical schools and got into one school, which was his top choice.
Ambati strove to excel at school. He said it was the right pace, and he felt challenged by what he was doing. His academic resume proves thus: a bachelor’s degree from New York University in biology (on full scholarship at age 13); a M.D. from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; an internal medicine internship at the North Shore University Hospital; residency at the Beth Israel Medical Center for internal medicine and at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for ophthalmology, one of his interests; a fellowship at the Duke University Eye Center for cornea and refractive surgery; and a Ph.D. from the Medical College of Georgia in cell biology.
Often, people did wonder about the young talented kid, but he proved how capable he was through his hard work. At college, he was a part of the Presidential Scholars program. He also attended Broadway shows and took trips to Greece and Hawaii. Despite his young age, he said he enjoyed having friends older than him.
International Congress of Eye Research, American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery and World Ophthalmology Congress are some of the national and international conferences he has been invited to speak. He also does overseas work in India, Panama, Malaysia and Ghana where he does cornea transplants and cataract surgeries. He spoke about how there is one ophthalmologist for 20,000 people in a place like America, but there is only one ophthalmologist for a million people in a place like Zambia; he said it is “always rewarding to see the [tremendous] impact [one] can have…on the patient (as well as their family)…by getting that person to see again and return to society…” He also does research related to many causes such as diabetic eye disease and enjoys working in the laboratory.
He is the recipient of many awards. The Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS) in Lucknow presented him with the Fourth IRDS Awards for Medicine. Also, in 2013 the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology bestowed him the Troutman-Véronneau Prize and in 2014, the ARVO Foundation awarded him the Ludwig von Sallmann Clinician-Scientist Award. This marks the ninth year for the researcher and physician at the John A. Moran Eye Center in the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, where he specializes in many areas such as LASIK, PRK, cataract extraction, cornea transplants, lifestyle lens implants and keratoprosthesis. Vision “really matters” and it is “very rewarding” when a person’s vision is saved, he said.
Some of his inspirations are Donald Woods, Richard Feynman and Gandhi. In his free time, he likes playing chess and ping-pong, swimming, watching movies and traveling.
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