Home Interviews A Candid Interview With Dr. Ben S. Carson, M.D: An American Icon
A Candid Interview With Dr. Ben S. Carson, M.D: An American Icon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier   
Sunday, 21 February 2010 19:27

Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson Sr., M.D was born in Michigan in 1951 to a young mother in inner-city Detroit.  He and his older brother, Curtis, grew up amid poverty, crime, and violence.  His parents divorced when Dr. Carson was very young.  He and his brother were raised by their mother.  After his parents’ divorce, Carson lost confidence in himself and believed his classmates, who would insult him by calling him names.  He internalized those insults and began developing a violent temper.  His mother challenged him and his brother to strive for excellence.  Thanks to his mother’s powerful faith in him, he regained confidence and educated himself by reading two books per week.  He had to provide regular reports of his readings to his mother.  She had a third-grade education, but a PhD in Life.  She constantly motivated Carson by telling him, “Bennie, if you know how to read, you can know and learn practically anything you want.  The doors of the world are open to anybody who can read.  And my boys are going to be successful in life because they’re going to be the best readers in the school.”  His mother regularly checked his work and his brother’s.  She challenged them to excel by reading and turning off the television.  Carson’s grades at school gradually improved.  Dr. Carson shared the thoughts he had at the tender age of eight:  “I loved listening to stories in church, and it seemed that missionaries were the noblest people in the world.  They made these great sacrifices.  Wow, could there be anything greater than that? ».  Dr.  Carson’s incredible achievements are remarkable, and in spite of a difficult start in life, he succeeded against all odds.
Carson’s discipline, perseverance, hard work and deep religious faith paid off.  He rose from being the last studentin his class to the top.  He never came down again. Dr. Carson completed a degree in psychology at Yale University and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Medicine.  He later completed his internship in general surgery and his residency in neurological surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1982, Carson was  named chief resident and fellow in neurological surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  He later served as a senior registrar in neurosurgery at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II Medical Center in Western Australia.  By 1984, after spending a year in this country, he returned to Hopkins to become the nation's youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, as well as co-director of neurosurgical oncology and assistant professor of oncology and neurological surgery, at age 33.  In 1987, Dr. Carson gained international recognition for having led an important medical team, which successfully separated German twins conjoined at the back of the head during a 22-hour surgery. This was an historical breakthrough.  In 1997, Dr. Ben Carson and his team went to South Africa to separate conjoined twins Luka and Joseph Banda, infant boys from Zambia. Both boys survived, and neither one suffered severe brain damage. The Bandas were the first set of Type II craniopagus twins (joined at the tops of their heads) to be successfully surgically separated.  The operation lasted 28 hours.  Dr.  Carson has also advanced brain surgery to help control seizures in infants and has demonstrated vast success with adults suffering from trigeminal neuralgia (TN).  The condition causes such severe facial pain that it is called the “suicide disease”, since many adults choose to end their lives rather than live with this level of anguish.  

In 2004, Dr. Carson was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the President’s Council on Bioethics.  Dr.  Carson is currently the longstanding Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Children’s Center (www.hopkinschildrens.org).  He is known to give maximum attention to every case.  He still conducts over 300 surgeries per year.  He has expertise in traumatic brain injuries, brain and spinal cord tumors, achondroplasia, neurological and congenital disorders, craniosynostosis, epilepsy and trigeminal neuralgia.  Dr. Carson’s contributions brought notoriety to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Children’s Center in the field of pediatric neurosurgery.  He has published colossal works in the medical field and has authored over 100 neurosurgical publications, along with four best-selling books.  These books have been translated into several languages. 

Dr.  Carson is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the Horatio Alger Society of Distinguished Americans and many other prestigious organizations.  Dr. Carson has been awarded more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees and dozens of national merit citations.  In February 2008, he received the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal and in June 2008, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.  He became the first African-American physician in U.S. history to receive the Medal of Freedom from a president.  25 physicians obtained this Medal in the U.S.  history.  It is the highest civilian honor in the coun try.  This award was created by former President Harry Truman in 1945.  President John F.  Kennedy in 1963 expanded the categories of this honor.  Established by Executive Order 11085 in 1963, this medal is awarded by the President to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  Both CNN and Time magazine named Dr. Carson among the 20 foremost physicians and scientists.  He is a Library of Congress “Living Legend”.  In 2006, he was the recipient of Spingarn Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the NAACP.

Dr.  Carson has many interests beyond the medical field.  He wears many hats: he is an author, motivational speaker (for school systems, civic groups, corporations, the President’s National Prayer Breakfast), a philanthropist, a healer, and a leader, among other roles.  In 2003, he even made a cameo appearance in the movie “Stuck on you”, a film about conjoined twins played by Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear.  Giving a chance to young people for education is also a very important issue to Dr. Carson.  In 1994, he and his wife founded The Carson Scholars Fund (http://carsonscholars.org/) for children in grades 4 through  12 with high GPAs (3.75 and above).  The deserving children must also have demonstrated strong community involvement.  Dr. Carson is interested in maximizing the intellectual potential of every child by providing them with opportunities. As part of the Carson Scholars Fund, they place special very enticing reading rooms in schools and other places to encourage and reward students for reading.  He and his wife have donated millions of dollars out of their own pockets and created charities to help young scholars.  Dr. Carson co-founded Angels of the OR, to help the uninsured and underinsured to have access to neurosurgery.  The physician’s charitable organization, Benevolent Endowment Network Fund (the BEN Fund), had also been providing financial support for children in need of neurosurgery.  Dr. Carson is known to speak to everyone politely, kindly, respectfully and with dignity, regardless of their ethnicity, class or religion.   His unaffected and unpretentious manner endears him to many.  He does not take all the credit for himself, stating instead that he is guided by a higher power:  “God gave me the talent to do my work”.  So many people are moved by this physician’s story and accomplishments that a play about his life is performed annually in front of thousands of students in Maryland.  The 7th of February 2009, a TV movie on TNT was also aired about Dr.  Carson’s life entitled:  “Gifted hands:  The Ben Carson story”.  His character is portrayed by the Oscar winning actor, Cuba Gooding Jr., who also produced the movie.  Kimberly Elise played the role of the physician’s mother.  Dr. Carson is a humanist and a living legend.  He is considered one of the world’s most significant mentors and he is the crème de la crème.  We spoke to him the 3rd of August 2009.  He graciously shared his experience and expertise with us in this long interview.  By the Editress-In-Chief and Legalist Patricia Turnier (Master’s degree in law, LL.M)  ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).


Patricia Turnier, LL.M talks to Dr.  Ben S.  Carson, M.D:

P.T.  You dedicated your best-selling book Gifted Hands to your mother.  She had and still has a tremendous positive influence in your life.  Can you share with us what she means to you?

Dr.  B.C.  She is a woman who only had a third grade education.  She came from a family of 24 children and she got married at 13.  She moved from Tennessee to Detroit.  She found out that her husband was a bigamist after a number of years.  She had the responsibility of raising two young sons.  She had to find a way to stand up on her own.  I want to add that she is a very attractive woman and she could have remarried.  She relinquished all of that and dedicated her life to her children.  If you did the math, we were poor, but we never felt indigent or deprived.  Our mother made life rich and extremely full. She wanted to make sure that we would have a good start in life.  She basically sacrificed her life for us.  My mother is the one who made it all possible for my brother, who is a successful engineer, and for me.  We looked toward her for guidance since our childhood. We learned from her that there was opportunity in life and that we could do anything we wanted.  Our mother is a very smart, strong, sincere, compassionate lady.  She is the anchor of our lives.  We feel very blessed and we are grateful.  We credit her as being the one who made sure our family would stay strong.  We give all our respect and tribute to her.

P.T.  At one time, Dr. Carson, you thought about psychiatry as a speciality.  You even studied psychology at Yale.  Your interest shifted.  What made you decide to choose neurosurgery and to work specifically with children?

Dr.  B.C.  Well, at one point during my first year of medical school I asked myself what my specifics and talents might be.

I believe God gives everybody specific talents.  When I looked back over my life, I recognised that I had a lot of eye-hand coordination.  I have the ability to think in three dimensions.  I was a very careful person, always thought things through and never made impulsive decisions.  I realised that I loved dissecting things and I enjoyed working with children.  I asked myself if there was a way to combine all these skills.  It turned out to be surgery.  I encourage young people all over the country to sit down and analyse their skill set and choose a career which takes advantage of this.

P.T.  You became internationally known thanks to the breakthrough operation in 1987 with conjoined twins.  What do this great accomplishment and the ensuing recognition mean to you?

Dr.  B.C.  It was great to first receive 15 minutes of fame in 1985 for doing hemispherectomies and another 15 minutes of fame for doing an intra-uterine shunt in 1986.  Afterwards, I received an additional 15 minutes of fame in 1987 for the German twins.  For the latter, I knew it was going to be actually more than 15 minutes of celebrity.  The media is not stupid, and they realised I was the same guy who conducted the two previous operations.  They looked into my background.  I knew that things would change at that point.  Over the years, I made a conscious decision to do something useful with the notoriety. I want to use that platform to really try to help young people realise their potential.  I want them to know what they can accomplish as individuals.  Young people have to realise that they don’t have to be a victim of their environment or the people around them.  As long as you have a brain, you have the ability to think and to chose; anything is possible.  It is also imperative for me to talk to them about the importance of education.

P.T.  In the media, you spoke about your middle name, Solomon.  Can you share with us the beautiful story of King Solomon and how it is linked to your own personal story?

Dr.  B.C.  I always said it proves that God has a good sense of humor because he inspired my parents to give me the middle name Solomon.  He must have known that I would have a great affinity for the book of Proverbs, which I read each day morning and night ever since I tried to stab someone when I was 14.  When Solomon first became the King of Israel, the event that brought him great acclaim was his decision when two women came to him claming they were the mother of the same baby.  He advocated dividing the baby.  It was a test to find out who the real mother was.  She was the one who wanted the baby to be safe.  Solomon is known as being the wisest king of all time.  What is funny about the story is the fact that I became well known for dividing the babies in 1987.  By giving me the same name as King Solomon, it makes me think that God has a great sense of humor.  He knew what was going to happen.

P.T. I know that you are very spiritual and that God is the source of inspiration in your career as a physician.   In your best selling book “Think Big”, the readers learn that you pray for your patients.  It is rare to hear a physician speak openly about his faith. You spoke to the media about your B.I.G. philosophy.  The last letter, G, is for God. You said, “I feel very strongly that, in American society, we should not be ashamed of God. We shouldn't shy away from it.  We have to consider the fact that it's on our money.  Every coin and every bill says, "In God We Trust." It's in our pledge; it's in the preamble to our Constitution. It talks about our Creator. It's in our courtrooms. On the walls we can read, "In God We Trust." When we created this nation, we believed in God.”  Can you share with us, Dr. Carson, how your faith helped you throughout your career and your life?

Dr.  B.C.  It was when I was 14 years old and after I tried to stab another youngster.  That was when I really came to an understanding of who God was.  Before that event, God was a nebulous figure to me.  It was before just somebody that people preached about and that everybody kind of knew but he was not someone with whom I had a personal relationship.  During the three hours I spent in the bathroom after that attempted stabbing, I came to understand that God is real.  I realised that he can really change your life.  He changed my life that day.  I began to depend on him from that point on as my heavenly Father but also my earthly father.  Whenever I had a problem, I just went to him.  I have to say that he answered every major request I made.  This is particularly important in my career.  I had to face many controversial cases.  I asked him to give me wisdom to know what to do.

P.T.  In 1994, you and your wife created the Carson Scholars Fund.  The Ben Carson reading project is a program of this fund.  Can you talk to us about the Ben Carson reading club?

Dr.  B.C.  Basically, we discovered that there are many elementary schools in this country which do not have a library.  We recognised that 70 to 80% of high school dropouts are functionally illiterate.  We wanted to figure out a way to deal with that problem.  We started to put reading rooms in schools.  Those reading rooms are beautiful places.  They are decorated like Disney World.  They are the kind of place that no kid could ignore.

P.T.  I think it is a great idea that those rooms are decorated like that.  I definitely also believe that the books used in elementary schools need to have designs to make them attractive to children.  I think they can learn better that way.

Dr.  B.C.  Yes, definitely.  The kids in the reading rooms get points for the amount of time they’re spending there and for the number of books they read.  They can collect those points to collect a prize at the end.  In the beginning, they do it for the prizes but it doesn’t take long for it to translate into other aspects of their lives, for instance in their school work.

P.T.  Is it in your plans to expand the Carson Scholars Fund outside of the US and to implement it in other countries, such as Haiti for instance?

Dr.  B.C.  Absolutely.  Right now, the Fund is currently operating in 34 states.  Our first goal is to implement it in every state.  After, we would definitely like to implement it other countries such as Haiti.

P.T.  In June 2008, you received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush.  You became the first African-American physician in US history to receive this recognition.  What does this honor mean to you?

Dr.  B.C.  I think this honor I received, along with the previous ones from other institutions, are good for other people.  This recognition is significant to me for young people from all backgrounds.  It allows them to see that it really doesn’t matter where you come from.  You can come from the most desperate situation and you can make it if you have the discipline and the motivation.  If you apply your mind to working hard and using your God-given talents, you can make a difference in society.  This is what it really meant to me when I received this civilian award.

P.T.  In your best selling book, “Take the Risk”, we learn that 80 percent of American sixth graders cannot locate the United States on a world map.  What do you think needs to be done to improve the quality of education in this country?

Dr.  B.C.  I think the key thing is for us to put our money where our mouth is.  We love to talk about the inadequacy of education particularly when there is an election coming up.  But where do we really put our money?  In sports stadiums and entertainment.  Those are the things that we really emphasize.  We are willing to spend a great deal of money in those fields.  A city will make all kinds of bond issues to raise money to build a half a billion dollar stadium complex.  But the schools are falling down, some roofs have no covers and nobody cares.  What message do we send when for instance athletes and people in entertainment are paid much more than teachers or other individuals with diplomas?  Does that encourage the youth to pursue higher education?   Students are able to pick up on these contradictions exposed by society.  Also, we need to find better ways to educate the youth and equip them with tools instead of exposing them to models of materialism and consumption. 

Now, in our technological age, the information has become very sophisticated.  The latest technology should be presented as information to the students.  This is how you can get the attention of the youth.  There are people who think they will get all that when they will be in college.  It will be too late.  They will already reach a point when they’ll think that science and math are domains for smart people only.

Kids need to be educated about their own roots as well. A cosmopolitan education is important because it allows children to broaden their minds.  Parents and teachers should also expose young people to books written by authors their own age such as Anne Frank and Sophie Scholl.  Teenagers can definitely relate to those stories.  Hollywood should produce more movies like Akeelah and the Bee because it would be a great way to promote the benefits of education.  Everybody in our society should participate because it is our collective responsibility to make sure that young people realise the importance of being educated.  We have to figure out a way to make sure those kids are in touch and in contact with people who will stimulate their interests early on.  Everybody needs to be involved and challenge the children.  The parents must participate in meetings with the teachers.  The US government could give distinguished rewards to schools that have shown the greatest performance among their students. This is how young people will educate themselves better and will be encouraged.

P.T. I could add in terms of education, that teachers don’t receive the respect they deserve anymore.  For instance, in Japan kids stand up after the class and say thank you to their professors.  Sharing your knowledge is one of the most beautiful gifts that someone can give.

P.T. To have access to excellent education can be very expensive in the US.  For example, the presidential couple, Mr. and Mrs. Obama, was finally able to finish paying off their education barely five years ago, thanks to the best selling books of Barack Obama.  Let’s be real, it is not everyone who can write a best selling book.  I can add that costs range on average 25 000$ per year for public Universities and 40 000$ per year for private Universities.  I know that education is a very important issue for you, Dr. Carson.  What do you think needs to be done in this country to make sure that every American child can have access to excellent education from preschool to college?

Dr.  B.C.  Again, one of the issues is not that we don’t spend enough money on education.  We spend more per capita on education any other nation in the world.  And yet, when we conduct national surveys we generally rank at the bottom, particularly in science and math.  It is not a matter of not putting enough money into it.  It is a matter of having an incredibly inefficient system, a bureaucratic system where people are much more interested in their positions and titles than in educating children.  It is a system which is much too politically correct.  Now, why do I say that?  If you look at the public education system of this country over one hundred years ago, it was much better.  In fact, as you probably know since you are familiar with the French culture, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States to study our education system because we turned out such incredible products.  We should go back and study Tocqueville’s essays on American education.  He was incredibly impressed because every second grader could read.  The standard was incredibly high.  150 years ago, the sixth graders had to be able to name all the states with their capitals, all the presidents and vice-presidents.  You had to know the government structure.  You had to be able to calculate the distance covered by a train from NY to San Francisco.  You had to be able to calculate acres and volumes in your head without a pencil or without a calculator like we do now (laughs).  It was pretty amazing.  Those were the standards of that era.  What was also interesting at that time is the fact that the school system taught and instilled values from the Bible into the students.  Actually, I don’t remember if it was Thomas Jefferson or George Washington but one of them said it wasn’t possible to really educate a man without giving him a sense of values.  In the early 50’s, our schools began to be politically correct.  Firstly, they said we won’t mention any gods and we won’t conduct any prayers.  As we went further away from any type of value system, we stopped educating the children in the basic abilities of mathematics or reading, writing, expressing themselves, etc.  We started to introduce all kinds of social things and it became a feel good club.  The drop-out rate is high.  We are not among the highest percentage of college graduates in the world.  The expectations in terms of education definitely need to be superior because we have lost the value of knowledge.  Now, we sit around and give social promotions to people.  Children can pass their classes very easily especially in poor areas.  Some kids are pushed on from grade to grade without a clue how to read and write.  In some places, teaching is just baby-sitting.  When somebody comes along and tries to bring some measuring system, everybody screams.  I think it is pretty sad to be honest with you.

P.T.  Regarding education, I believe the change in the middle of the 20th century has a lot to do with TV. The media slowly homogenized the society and profoundly changed the world.  Nevertheless, in the 19th century, it was possible to find in Europe for instance barons who spoke 27 languages, a skill which does not really exist anymore since there are so many distractions and less people are self-taught.  We became so dependent on all kinds of technology that we don’t exploit and challenge the potential of our own brains.  We can’t focus when there are too many distractions. 

Dr. B.C.  There is no question about the impact of television on our society.  There is a distraction associated with watching television.  It has been compounded with video games.  It is problematic.  I think it is one of the reasons why every fourth and fifth child is on medication because of ADD (attention deficit disorder).

P.T.  The health field in the US represents 1/7 of the economy in this country.  21% of health costs go to paperwork (at least 294.3 billion $ per year).  It has been like that for years and we are not even talking about treating people.  In 1996, you wrote an article about health care reform in the Harvard Journal of Minority Public Health. As a physician, what do you think needs to be corrected to make the health care system more efficient in the US?

Dr.  B.C.  The first thing that we have to recognise is that in the US we spend twice as much per capita for health care as the next closest nation.  Again, like in the education system, it is not a question of not putting enough money into it.  Obviously, there is an inefficiency issue which is going on here.  What do you need for good health?  You need a patient and a health care provider.  Along came a middle man to facilitate the relationship.  Now, the middle has become the principal entity with the patient and the health care provider at its beck and call.  The entire thing is completely out of control.  The entire concept of for profits for the insurance companies makes absolutely no sense.  “I deny that you need care and I will make more money”.  This is totally ridiculous.  The first thing we need to do is get rid of for profit insurance companies.  We have a lack of policies and we need to make the government responsible for catastrophic health care.  We have to make the insurance companies responsible only for routine health care.  The fact that a fraction of the American population has no health care insurance creates a situation in which some end up in emergency rooms, which results in even greater expenses for the US.  If insurance companies are responsible only for routine health care, you are able to predict how much money they are going to need, which facilitates regulations.  For instance, if we didn’t regulate utilities nobody could afford electricity or water.  You can’t depend on the goodness of people’s hearts, particularly when you’re dealing with something which is essential.  The other point is billings and collections, which constitute a huge portion of the cost.   This could easily be done electronically.

P.T.  Same thing with medical files.

Dr. C.  Exactly.  In terms of billings, every single diagnosis has something known as an ICD-9 code.  Every single procedure has something known as a CPT code.  We have computers.  This means all billings and collections can instantly be done electronically.  There are insurance companies which will say it can’t be done because some dishonest practitioner will pretend that they conducted two appendectomies when they only conducted one, but they want to be paid twice.  First of all, there are very few people who would do that and you don’t create a giant bureaucracy just to catch few bad eggs (Laughs).  It doesn’t make any sense.  In some countries in the Middle East, the penalties for theft can be extremely severe (for example, cutting off a part of the body).  I wouldn’t propose a penalty to that extent but it is possible to create a penalty which would be so severe that people wouldn’t even think of taking the risk.  For instance, they could lose their license for life or put in jail for ten years and lose their personal assets.  No one would even think about trying to defraud the government or the insurers.  They would closely check every bill before submitting it.  If we look at Sweden for instance, why there is no drunk-driving in that country?  It is because the penalty for this kind of infringement is so severe that no one would even consider breaking the law.  It is part of the culture.  This would save a lot of money.  I strongly believe that one of the solutions is through law enforcement.  The government also needs to deal with tort reform regarding medical malpractice.  One of the reasons that doctors prolong life unnecessarily is because they are afraid of being sued if they act otherwise.  We have to deal with this problem if we seriously want to bring the cost of health care under control.  Physicians are ordering all sorts of tests to prevent a lawsuit.  This is craziness.  The United States is the only developed country with this problem.  The other industrial countries came up with a solution.  Why haven’t we come up with one yet?  There are powerful lobbies which don’t want to have solutions.  There is a lot of money involved, especially with many questionable and frivolous lawsuits.  In the past, the few times that someone tried to challenge those powerful lobbies in Washington D.C., there were always senators who fought to make sure there wouldn’t be any votes which would pass regarding this issue.

P.T.  About 50 million people in the US are uninsured for health care.  What solutions do you see to make health care accessible to every American citizen? Do you think that your Benevolent Endowment Network Fund could be a model to make health care accessible nationwide?  What kind of universal health care plan should the government create?

Dr.  B.C.  The concept of endowment for health care is not called the Benevolent Endowment Network Fund anymore.  Now, it is called Angels of the OR.  The idea was to create an endowment large enough that could take the interest from it and pay for people who are not insured.  We are talking about 1/7 of the economy which is huge and it concerns people.  If you have enough discipline to put aside ten percent a year for about 15 years, you would have an effective answer of the high cost of health care.  With the interest gained on that ten percent over 15 years, it would help an enormous amount of people financially.  I believe that if this discipline would continue for a total of 25 years, everybody would be covered.  First of all, going back to that 50 million people who are uninsured, we have to be careful with that number since it doesn’t take into account people who are in between jobs or temporarily out work.  The situation is unacceptable and some measures have to be put in place.  However, we have to keep in mind that those people can go to the emergency room and they will be taken care of.  The problem is that it costs five times more than it costs in a clinic.  We need to be wise about this issue.  We are paying for those people regardless, and five times more.  So the government needs to find a way to make those people go to the clinics.  The manner to do that is to create a program where they would get a monthly allocation for health care like our food stamps program.  People will learn how to use those allocations effectively.  They know how to do it with the food stamps.  Instead of spending their monthly allocation at the emergency, they will use it more effectively by going to the clinic.  Someone who is diabetic for instance will have his condition under control if he goes to the clinic.  He won’t end up at the emergency.  That way we will save a lot of money by looking at preventive health care.  The uniformity of the electronic billing system will also help the situation.  I could add that the government will have to be responsible for the inefficient health care system and take required measures.  I think it is a waste to throw another trillion dollars into an inefficient health care system.

P.T.  I think also that the concept of social business from Muhammad Yunnus, the Nobel Peace prize recipient should be explored in terms of health care.  He wrote in his book Creating a World Without Poverty that social business can be applied to any country in many domains such as health care.

P.T.  This year, the movie “Gifted hands: The Ben Carson Story” was produced.  How did that make you feel and what did you think of the performance of Cuba Gooding Jr. who portrayed your character?

Dr.  B.C.  I was extremely pleased with all this.  They did an absolutely terrific job.  I had a chance to go on set.  People felt that they were on a mission.  The most important thing for me is that I hope my story will inspire young people to do whatever they dream for their own lives and I want them to know that there are no limitations with perseverance.  I spoke to a reporter who saw the movie before she interviewed me.  She watched it with her young son.  After he saw the film, she told me that he could not wait to go back to school [laughs].  He felt energized and wanted to conquer the world.  So, my main goal is to inspire and enlighten people.  I particularly want kids to realise that getting an education is the key to accomplishing anything.  For this reason, I insisted that the movie would not be done in a way that is purely entertainment.  I had previously spoken to at least 12 different movie producers who wanted to do the movie.  Their desire was to spice up my story.  I was totally against it.  I would rather not have a movie made in those conditions.  It was imperative to me that the film is based on the actual facts.  When the producer was chosen, I received calls three to four times a day [laughs] to make sure that things were done accurately and truthfully.  I think that Cuba Gooding did an exceptionally good job.  He was awesome.  It was an excellence choice. Gooding took on roles of many genres.  He is a very versatile actor.  He is also more of a high-energy and strong guy; he had to learn to be calm to portray my character [laughs]

P.T.  Do you have a message for young people on how to succeed in general, and any advice to give to those who are interested by the medical profession?

Dr.  C.  It is important to assess how you learn.  For instance, are you a visualizer or an auditory person?  Everybody learns differently.  You have to spend a little time getting to know yourself.  It is important to assess your strengths and weaknesses.  For example, I don’t really learn by listening to boring lectures.  When I had those in medical school, it didn’t get through to me.  I did poorly at my first comprehensive exams.  My advisor told me to drop out of medical school.  He said I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor.

Fortunately, I prayed for wisdom.  I figured out what the problem was.  I stopped going to the medical lectures and I spent my time reading.  I learn and I get a lot from reading.  I succeeded after this shift throughout my entire time in medical school.  I went back to the advisor and I told him he was not cut out to do his job (laughs).  The most important thing is to acknowledge how you learn.  It makes all the difference in the world in terms of what you are going to be able to achieve.  If you are just adapting yourself to somebody else’s mode, you are not going to make it. It is important for young people to explore their areas of interests.  This is how you gain various competencies.

The advice that I can give to young people who want to become physicians is to not be discouraged by the amount of time that it takes to become a doctor.  People used to tell me when I was in high school that I was going to be an old man by the time I finished my studies (laughs).  But when I finished they were all the same age I was (laughs).  So, you have youth on your side and time goes by at the same rate for everybody.  As long as you feel it is your calling, then go for it because there is no better career than saving lives and providing longevity to people.  There is nothing more valuable than that.

I would like to add that a lot of young people want to become a star in sports, cinema or music.  There is nothing wrong with that but it is only a small fraction of people who will reach that level.  Even those who attained success in these fields are often already considered old past the age of 30. It is not easy to be on top all the time in the entertainment field.  In sports, you can be injured.  It is possible also to lose a fortune especially if you don’t have an education.  So it is important to have a back-up plan. Nobody can take away what we learned.  Education is the basis of everything and the key for longevity in any domain.  It provides options for people.  I want kids to believe that it is cool to be knowledgeable.  This is how you earn respect. I want young people to realise the power of knowledge.  You can accomplish anything with that.  For instance, the great Frederick Douglass in 1872 became the First African-American to be nominated vice-president of the United States for the Equal Rights Party headed by Victoria Woodhull.  He was nominated without notification.  If he was able to attain this status at the end of the 19th century, it was because he was highly respected for his erudition. Douglass mainly taught himself how to read and became one of the most prominent figures in the United States history.  Education is the key to improving the lives of everybody.  Knowledge is Man’s wealth.

P.T:  Dr. Carson, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your rich store of experience.  It was an honor and a privilege to interview you!



Marital Status:  Married to Candy Carson since 1975. They met at Yale University in 1975.  Dr. Carson’s wife is a triple major who took courses in music, psychology and pre-med.  Candy Carson holds an M.B.A. degree and is an accomplished musician.  They are devout evangelical Christians and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Dr. Carson and his wife have three sons.

Notable quotes from Dr. Carson:

“Everybody, no matter who they are, has problems in life.  And we’ll continue to have problems in life.  You get to decide whether those problems become something that weaken you or something that strengthen you.”

“Anyone who refuses to test his limits, anyone unwilling to move out of her comfort zone, is destined to live life inside the envelope.”

“I don’t believe God gave us such wonderfully complex brains to simply look at somebody else’s compass or drift aimlessly through life without purpose or direction.”

“God asks all of us to give him a tenth of our best, however much we have.”

“We need to make it clear to people what it means to live by godly principles – loving your fellow man, caring for your neighbor, and living a life of service by developing your God-given talents to the point that you become invaluable to the people around you.”

“My mother instilled in me a deep respect for the potential of the human brain, and that respect has deepened over the years to an attitude I can only describe as awe.”

 Education and training:

  • 1965-1969 :  Southwestern High School (Detroit, Michigan)
  • 1969-1973 :  B.A., Yale University
  • 1973-1977 :  M.D., University of Michigan (School of Medicine)


  • 1978 :  Diplomate-National Board of Medical Examiners
  • 1983 :  Maryland State Medical License
  • 1983 :  Medical License-Western Australia

Board Certification:

1982, 1988 :  American Board of Neurological Surgery-Certified
1997 :  American Board of Pediatric Neurological Surgery

Additional Certification:  Microsurgical Techniques, The Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine

Selected previous educational and academic experience:

1968 :  Research Laboratory Assistant (Wayne State University, Michigan)
1976-1977 :  Physical Diagnosis instructor (School of Medicine, University of Michigan)
1981 : Senior Neurosurgical Resident, The Baltimore City Hospitals (Baltimore, Maryland)
1979-1983 :  Fellow in Neurosurgery (School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University)
1983-1984 :  Senior Registrar in Neurosurgery (Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II, Medical Center, Western Australia)

Previous professional experience:

1984-1991 :  Assistant professor of neurological surgery (Director division of pediatric neurosurgery)
1984-1991 :  Assistant professor of oncology (Co-Director of section of neurosurgical oncology, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Maryland)
1987-1996 :  Assistant professor of pediatrics (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Maryland)
1991-1999 :  Associate professor of neurological surgery, Oncology, Plastic surgery and Pediatrics (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Maryland)

Current Appointments:

1984-Present :  Director Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery
Johns Hopkins Hospital Children’s Center
Baltimore, Maryland

1991-Present :  Co-Director of The Johns Hopkins Cleft and Craniofacial Center
Johns Hopkins Hospital Children’s Center
Baltimore, Maryland

June 1999-Present :  Professor of Neurological Surgery
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland

June 1999-Present :  Professor of Oncology
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland

June 1999-Present :  Professor of Plastic Surgery
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland

June 1999-Present :  Professor of Pediatrics
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland 

A Selection of Dr. Carson’s Honorary Degrees:

  • 1988 :  Doctor of Science Degree, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • 1994 :  Doctor of Science Degree, Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky
  • 2000 :  Doctor of Science Degree, Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania
  • 2004 :  Doctor of Science, University of District of Columbia, Washington, DC
  • 2004 :  Doctor of Humane Letters, Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
  • 2004 :  Doctor of Laws, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic, Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 2007 :  Doctor of Science, Columbia University, New York, New York
  • 2007 :  Doctor of Science, St-Louis University, St-Louis, Missouri

Selected Awards:

1982 :  Cum Laude Award
The Radiological Society of North America
Awarded for Exhibit at the 68th Annual
Scientific Assembly :  Brain Tumor
Research-Imaging and Therapy
Chicago, Illinois

1987 :  Memorial Award :  For Outstanding
Service to Underprivileged Children
The Continental Societies, Inc.
Baltimore Chapter-Baltimore, Maryland

1988 :  Clinical Practictioner of the Year Award
National Medical Association, Region II

1991 :  Benjamin E.  Mays Memorial Award
North Carolina State University

1992 :  Mission Award
Maryland Public Television
Baltimore, Maryland

1994 :  Martin Luther King, Jr. Award
for Community Service
Johns Hopkins Hospital
Baltimore, Maryland

1996 :  Think Big Award
by Clara M. Pitts Elementary School
Atlanta, Georgia

2007 :  Ford Foundation Freedom Scholar Award
Charles H.  Wright Museum of African
American History
Detroit, Michigan

2008 :  Presidential Medal of Freedom


Gifted Hands on DVD since the 8th of September 2009 (www.amazon.com or .ca)

Selected Publications:

Dr.  Carson’s four best-selling books :

  • (1992) Think Big, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-21459-9
  • (2000) The Big Picture, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-23834-X
  • (2008) Take The Risk, Zondervan Publishing Co.  This book was endorsed by George Lucas, director, producer and screenwriter for films including the epic Star Wars saga and Indiana Jones franchise. ISBN 0-310-25973-8
  • (1990) Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-21469-6

A selection of Dr. Carson’s articles and abstracts:

  • Carson BS, Anderson J, Grossman S, Hilton J, White C, Colvin OM, Clark A.  Grochow L, Kahn A, Murray K :  An Improved Rabbit Brain Tumor Model Amenable to Diagnostic Radiographic Procedures.  Neurosurgery, vol.  11, No.  5, 603-608, 1982
  • Carson BS, Anderson J, Grossman S, Hilton J, White C, Murray K, Colvin OM :  Radiographic Imaging of a Rabbit Brain Tumor Model.  Investigative Radiology, Vol.  17, No.  4, 1982
  • Maria B, Zinreich J, Freeman J, Carson BS, Rosenbaum A :  Dandy-Walker Syndrome Revisited.  Annals of Neurology, Vol.  18, No.  3, 389, 1985.
  • Vining EPG, Carson BS, Freeman J, Long D :  Bilateral Epileptic Abnormalities :  A Unilateral Cure.  Epilepsia, 28 :  591, 1987.
  • Carson BS, Brem H :  Neurosurgery Update.  JAMA, Vol.  263, No.  19, May 16, 1990
  • Thilo EH, Park-Moore B, Berman ER, Carson BS :  Oxygen Saturation by Pulse Oximetry in Health Infants at an Altitude of 1610 m (5280 ft).  What is Normal?  Am J Dis Child, 145 (10) :  1137-1140, 1991
  • Carson BS, Washington H :  Health Care Reform – A Paradigm Shift.  Harvard Journal of Minority Public Health, Vol 2 (1), 1996.
  • Boatman D, Freeman J, Vining E, Pusifer M, Miglioretti D, Minahan R,  Carson BS, Brandt J, McKhann G :  Language Recovery after Left Hemispherectomy in Children with Late Onset Seizures.  Annals of Neurology, 46 (4) :  579-585, 1999
  • Hourani R, Horska A, Albayram S, Brant LJ, Melhem E, Cohen KJ, Burger PC, Weingart JD, Carson BS, Wharam MD, Barker PB :  Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Imaging to Differentiate between Nonneoplastic Lesions and Brain Tumors in Children.  J Magn Reson Imaging, 23(2) :  99-107, 2006
  • Lee J, Jallo GI, Guarnieri M, Carson BS, Penno MB :  A Novel Brainstem Tumor Model :  Guide Screw Technology with Functional, Radiological, and Histopathological Characterization.  Neurosurg Focus, 18 (6A):  E11, 2005
  • Lee J, Jalo GI, Penno MB, Gabrielson KL, Young GD, Johnson RM, Gillis EM, Rampersaud C, Carson BS, Guarnieri M :  Intracranial Drug-Delivery Scaffolds :  Biocompatibility Evaluation of Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate Gels, Toxicol Appl Pharmacol, 2006
  • Bagley CA, Pindrik JA, Bookland MJ, Camara-Quintana JQ, Carson BS :  Cervicomedullary Decompression for Foramen Magnum Stenosis in Achondroplasia.  J Neurosurg, 104 (3 Suppl) :  166-72, 2006
  • Jallo GI, Volkov A, Wong C, Carson BS Sr, Peno MB :  A Novel Brainstem Tumor Model :  Functional and Histopathological Characterization.  Childs Nerv Syst, [ Epub ahead of print], 2006
  • Jallo GI, Becker M, Liu YJ, Carson BS Sr, Penno MB :  A Novel Brainstem Tumor Model :  Functional and Histopathological Characterization.  Childs Nerv Syst, [Epub ahead of print], 2006
  • Ahn ES, Bookland M, Carson BS, Weingart JD, Jallo GI :  The Strata Programmable Valve for Shunt-Dependent Hydrocephalus :  The Pediatric Experience at a Single Institution.  Childs Nerv Syst, [ Epub ahead of print], 2006
  • McGirt M, Attenello F, Chaichana KL, Weingart JD, Carson BS, Jallo GI :  Duraplasty versus Cranial Decompression Alone Reduces Treatment Failure for Pediatric Chiari 1 Patients with Tonsil Herniation Caudal to C1 but Does Not Effect Outcome in Patients with Tonsil Herniation Rostral to C1, Accepted for presentation, CNS Annual Meeting Oral Platforms, San Diego, CA, 2007
  • McGirt M, Attenello F, Chaichana KL, Weingart J, Carson BS, Jallo GI :  Clinical and Radiological Predictors of Treatment Failure after Suboccipital Decompression for Pediatric Chiari 1 Malformation :  Analysis of 279 Consecutive Cases.  Accepted for presentation, CNS Annual Meeting Oral Platforms, San Diego, CA, 2007.
  • McGirt M, Woodworth GF, Chaichana KL, Attenello F, Carson BS, Jallo GI :  Ventricular Dilation Is Not a Reliable Measure of Acute Shunt Failure in Children Having Undergone Multiple Shunt Revisions.  Accepted for presentation, CNS Annual Meeting Oral Platforms, San Diego, CA, 2007
  • Schkrohowsky JG, Hoernschemeyer DG, Carson BS, Ain MC :  Early Presentation of Spinal Stenosis in Achondroplasia.  J Pediatr Orthop, 27 (2) :  119-122, 2007
  • Scuibba DM, Noggle JC, Marupudi NI, Bagley CA, Bookland MJ, Carson BS Sr, Ain MC, Jallo GI :  Spinal Stenosis Surgery in Pediatric Patients with Achondroplasia.  J Neurosurg, 106 (5 Suppl) :  372-8, 2007

Selected Major Lectures:

  • Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology :  Australian Association of ICU Nurses.  Perth, Western Australia, April, 1984
  • Unusual Pediatric Glioma.  Presented at the International Symposium on Pediatric Neuro-oncology, Toba, Japan, November, 1985
  • The Surgical Management of Cervico-Medullary Compression in Achondroplastic Patients.  Presented at the First International Conference on Human Achondroplasia.  Rome, Italy, November, 1986.  (Invited Speaker)
  • Educational and Scientific Excellence.  Presented to Rotary International.  Hamilton, Bermuda, November, 1988
  • Medical Success and Social Responsibility.  Presented on Martin Luther King Day at Washington University School of Medicine, St-Louis, Missouri, January, 1989
  • Minority Health Care in America.  National Black Health Study Group, Annual National Health Symposium, Las Vegas, Nevada, December, 1991
  • Affirmative Action Panelist.  Just The Beginning Foundation Convention/Damon J.  Keith Law Collection of African-American Legal History, Detroit, Michigan, September, 1998
  • Aspects of Pediatric Epilepsy Surgery.  Grand Rounds, Department of Pediatrics, University of Mississippi Medical Center, School of Medicine, Jackson, Mississippi, June, 2000
  • Pediatric Epilepsy.  Annual Meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Antonio, Texas, September, 2000
  • Craniosynostosis :  Controversies in Treatment.  Annual Meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September, 2002
  • Symptom Resolution with Cervicomedullary Decompression for Chiari Malformations.  Annual Meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Denver, Colorado, October, 2003.
  • Never Give Up.  Trigeminal Neuralgia.  Annual Conference of the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association, Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October, 2005
  • Craniopagus :  Lessons Learned.  Stanford Neurosurgery Grand Rounds, Stanford University Medical center, Stanford, California, March, 2006
  • Management of Craniosynostosis.  Montgomery/Prince Georges Pediatric Society Meeting.  Rockville, Maryland, May, 2006
  • Becoming An Adult :  Taking Charge of Your Life and Your Care.  Hydrocephalus Association Meeting, Baltimore, Maryland, May, 2006
  • Bioethics Today.  The S.  Rexford Kennamer M.D.  Distinguished Lecture Series, University of Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, February, 2007.

Selected National Electronic Media Appearances:

  • ABC Nightline, 2002
  • NBC Nightly News, 2002
  • Charlie Rose Show, 2002
  • Good Morning America, 2002
  • Stuck on You, Movie cameo appearance, 2003
  • Tavis Smiley Show, 2005

Selective Major National Print Media Articles:

  • Time
  • Newsweek
  • Ebony
  • Jet
  • Black Enterprise
  • People
  • Child
  • Reader’s Digest
  • Ladies Home Journal
  • Fortune
  • Ebony Man
  • Life
  • US News & World Report
  • Investors Business Daily
  • Philanthropy Roundtable