James Earl Harris Jr. is a general surgeon specializing in the full spectrum of common to complex abdominal and digestive disease surgery, including the latest minimally-invasive surgical techniques. Dr. Harris practices with Johns Hopkins Community Physicians exclusively at Howard County General Hospital as the Medical Director of the practice. He has a particular interest in surgical treatment of digestive diseases, such as stomach and colon cancer.
My path to becoming a physician with an interest in academic surgery and scientific research was far from a typical one. Raised in poverty by a disabled grandmother with the help of government assistance, I learned early on about many of the same struggles faced by my patients in the urban Baltimore community around Johns Hopkins Hospital. Very early in my childhood I showed an interest in becoming a physician; this motivation likely originated from my interactions with the various physicians that managed my grandmother’s heart failure and other illnesses. Although my grandmother only had a 7th grade education, she still managed to motivate me to follow my dream with her praise and encouragement.
Despite my grandmother’s best effort, as a teenager I lost focus in my childhood dream while attending a high school engulfed by gang violence and poverty. I rarely attended class for the first two years of high school and was about to drop out until finding out that my girlfriend (now my wife) was pregnant with our oldest son (who is now 21 years old, just graduated from college and will be starting his Masters in the fall). While my school counselor felt this was the worst news that a kid in my already dismal position could hear, I took the news as a big reason to get my life together. In order to catch up on all the class work I missed the first two years, I had to go to an independent study high school where I was able not only to take care of my work at an accelerated pace to graduate on time, but also I was able to work full-time to support my new family.
We stayed with my grandmother for the first year while working and going to independent study high school. After saving up money from fast food jobs and factory work, we then moved out on our own when I was 16. My wife and I both worked full-time throughout high school and college to support our new family. Prior to entering medical school, I worked as an auto repair shop service manager for almost five years. This was one of my earliest work experiences where I not only gained a significant amount of leadership experience, but was also able to enjoy the technical aspects of using my hands. Although it was difficult working 40-60 hours/week while in college full-time, applying to medical school and attempting to be a good father and husband, it was my wife that had the more difficult job of being the primary one caring for our children while also working full-time; without her, graduating from high school would have been farfetched, let alone acceptance to medical school or a competitive surgical residency.
Despite many significant challenges throughout medical school and surgical residency, we have continued to thrive. Now with our 3 children, ages 21, 18 and 14, God and my family continues to be my source of strength and motivation.
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