Justin Eichinger

Fourth-year medical student

Fourth-year medical student Justin Eichinger’s path to becoming a doctor was long, winding and driven by his determination to help people.

The northern Kentucky native earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from the University of Kentucky and his master’s degree in marine biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington before diving into a career in the biopharmaceutical industry.

“After six years of working in bio-pharma, I thought, ‘I’m really sick of not working closely with patients at all,’” Eichinger said. “I would go through data, but I wasn’t really working with patients, and I really wanted to be closer to human medicine as opposed to clinical research from a home desktop workstation.”

That desire to work closely with people and a liking for teaching anatomy as a graduate assistant led Eichinger to shadow a friend who worked as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

“She said, ‘Why don’t you just come to the hospital and see what it’s about?’ And that was really my first exposure to anesthesia,” Eichinger said. “And I thought, ‘this is really really cool.’ I think the OR (operating room) is the coolest place to be in the hospital. I liked that you’re really immersed in the health and safety of one person in front of you, and that’s the only person you’re thinking about. I thought, ‘wow, this could really work for me, so why not?’ And so I ultimately ended up applying to medical school.”

Medical school allowed Eichinger to combine his background in data and research with his passion for patient care. As a student in the School of Medicine, Eichinger put his research and medical knowledge to use in the Summer Research Scholars Program and by co-authoring studies aimed at helping victims of gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents.

“For doctors, our research provides information about the frequency of injuries to certain organs that come in and helps guide management, which in turn helps patients get treated more efficiently and effectively,” Eichinger said. “I’d like to also look at temporal trends to help inform care and management in the future. It may not make doctors’ jobs easier, but this research could help them know what to expect so they’re better prepared to treat their patients.”

Eichinger translated his desire for helping patients and doctors with research to aiding medical students gain hands-on experience as co-president of the Anesthesiology Interest Group. He helped put together an anesthesia skills workshop to help students from multiple fields prepare for their own careers helping others.

“Medical students who were interested in anesthesia or even other specialties could come to our skills lab and work on mannequins to do an arterial line, a central line, intubate and hone other various skills that anesthesiologists will run into every day,” Eichinger said. “Other medical specialties also run into these things frequently, so even if you’re an internal medicine physician, eventually you’re going to intubate, or you’ll have to run a peripheral line or a central line. A lot of these skills were widely applicable to other medical specialties.”

Treating people with care is something Eichinger values. His own journey to medical school was difficult and not without struggles – he persevered along with his class of 2024 peers to overcome the challenges medical students faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Eichinger also came out as gay to his family and friends around the same time he started at UofL.

“It was difficult going back to school in my mid-30s, queer and during a pandemic,” he said. “My first year was completely remote. I had to really want it.”

Eichinger channeled his drive into volunteering for multiple organizations aimed at helping people in the Louisville community and beyond, including the Future Healers program, Grow502 pop-up clinic and raiseRED dance marathon.

He hopes to eventually make his way back into academia to help future students conduct research that can make an impact on patients’ lives. In the meantime, Eichinger, who graduated in May 2024, will use his experiences from UofL to continue helping people in his residency placement as an anesthesiologist.

“With anesthesia, you can take away someone’s pain, and you can prevent that pain from even occurring postoperatively,” Eichinger said. “When someone is on the OR table and you see their blood pressure tanking, you can inject drugs and within seconds to minutes, see the effect of what you did and how it helped someone.

“You learn from every patient, and so I think every opportunity in the hospital is an opportunity to develop into the physician you’d like to be tomorrow. I always want to do something where I feel like I’m impacting people every day.”