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    Baseball’s best trade: Former ball player trains to become a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic

Jimmy Howick throwing a baseball
Jimmy Howick, M.D., tosses a ball in the infield while playing minor league baseball for the Houston Astros organization.

While playing professional baseball, Jimmy Howick became interested in medicine during the off season and found himself on a new career path. He's now Jimmy Howick, M.D.

How does a former professional baseball player embark on a life journey that leads him to becoming a doctor at Mayo Clinic? That's the remarkable story of Jimmy Howick, M.D., who completed his residency at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education and will enter a cardiology fellowship this year.

Playing professional baseball had always been a childhood dream for Dr. Howick, who grew up in a military family in the Jacksonville, Florida, area. A smart student and an exceptional infielder, he stood out to college scouts at the age of 16 and received a scholarship to play Division I baseball at Jacksonville University, where he spent three years on the team as a shortstop.

Unfortunately, he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the college conference tournament. Just one week before the MLB draft, he felt certain any interest from the major leagues had dried up. When he got a call from the Houston Astros organization offering to pay for the rest of his college education and help him rehab his knee so he could play for them, he jumped at the chance to join their farm team.

“It was an incredible and truly surreal experience,” Dr. Howick says of playing minor league baseball during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. “I had the opportunity to compete against players I had previously only watched on television.”

Although he was enjoying the experience, he continued to be plagued by old injuries. Meanwhile, he watched the Astros drafting new players who he knew would someday be mega-stars. Dr. Howick knew he needed to find something to look forward to when his baseball career came to an end.

One childhood dream comes to an end while another begins

Jimmy Howick holding a bat
Howick practices batting during a minor league game.

It was his experiences during the baseball offseason that shaped his future career path. Inspired by his grandfather's training as a rural surgeon and his family's history in the military, he began volunteering in the emergency department and patient transport at Mayo Clinic in Florida. He was surprised to feel so at home in a medical environment. Mayo's approach to patient care had a collegial, supportive atmosphere that resonated with his experiences playing team sports, he says. He was also impressed with how intentional everything in Mayo's healthcare environment was.

"While training as a volunteer and patient transporter, I remember them teaching me the importance of positioning patients so they faced forward rather than looking at the back of the elevator," he says. "I found that level of attention to detail remarkable."

Physicians let him observe their evaluations in the emergency room. When he was young, he'd occasionally thought about becoming a doctor, but his experiences at Mayo brought those thoughts to the top of his mind. Then, while sitting on a curb outside the emergency room on a break during his volunteer shift, he got a call letting him know the Astros were releasing him. His professional baseball career was over. He says it was "poetic, in a way" that while one dream ended, the next one was just beginning.

A new type of training

Dr. Howick first returned to school to finish his undergraduate studies and take all the prerequisite courses to apply to medical school. While studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Dr. Howick taught himself math and science with the help of YouTube videos. He even won a national contest granting him the opportunity to create MCAT instructional videos for pre-medical students around the world. While he was in the process of applying to medical school, he joined Teach for America and served as a high school math and science teacher in Harlem for two years, an experience that he calls transformative.

"I loved being a teacher. It is undoubtedly one of the most important jobs in the world. It was a formative time for me, and it continues to shape my approach to patient care and the way I mentor interns and medical students," says Dr. Howick, who years later would go on to win the Senior Resident Excellence in Teaching Award at Mayo Clinic for his work with younger trainees.

And while he was tempted to pursue teaching full-time, Dr. Howick says he resolved not to give up on medicine. "I didn’t want to spend my life wondering, 'What if?'"

Residency spurs passion for cardiology

Dr. Howick attended medical school in Virginia, but he always dreamed of returning to Mayo. He matched to the Internal Medicine residency program in Rochester, where he was named the Intern of the Year for the 2021-2022 academic year, an honor voted on by senior medical residents and program leadership.

Jimmy Howick and family
Howick and his family (wife Shelby, right, son Fletcher, 3, top center, and daughter Scottie, 6 months, bottom center) are excited to move home to Jacksonville, Florida.

As a volunteer Dr. Howick had the chance to observe several interventional cardiologists in the Cath Lab. In his first year of medical school, he saw his first transcatheter aortic valve replacement, something he says he hadn't even known was possible.

"Structural cardiology, particularly the advancements in percutaneous valvular interventions, represents some of the most exciting and cutting-edge work in all of medicine," he says.

He set his sights on a career in cardiology and on returning to Florida for a clinical fellowship, where he soon will be a regular part of these unique training experiences.

"Dr. [Brian] Shapiro and the entire team there are exceptional," he says. "I hold them in the highest regard, and I'm forever grateful the opportunity they have given me to come home and pursue this path."

"Dr. Howick exudes compassion for people and passion for advancing medical science — the kind of person who excels at Mayo," says Pritish Tosh, M.D., Dr. Howick's residency program associate director. "He has taken great care of his patients, worked well with his teammates, and has been a productive researcher. I am very proud of the physician he has become and am so glad he will be staying in the Mayo system for his cardiology fellowship."

Returning to Mayo Clinic in Florida with his wife and two young children may have involved a change in the gameplan from his original passion, but today Dr. Howick has finally made it to the big leagues.

"This is the culmination of over a decade of persistent effort," says Dr. Howick, "so it's pretty incredible that this moment has finally arrived."