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Jimmy Howick, M.D. was a professional baseball player and is now training to be a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic.

June 21, 2024

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff

Jimmy Howick, M.D., was pursuing a career as a professional baseball player. When the Houston Astros farm team released him after some injuries, he went after another dream — becoming a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic.

Playing professional baseball had been a childhood dream for Jimmy Howick, M.D.

He grew up in a military family around Jacksonville, Florida. A good student and an exceptional infielder, he stood out to college scouts at age 16 and received a scholarship to play Division I baseball at Jacksonville University.

He spent three years on the team as a shortstop. Then he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the school's run in the conference tournament. That was just one week before the Major League Baseball draft.

He was certain any interest from the major leagues had dried up. But 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.

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 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

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 with 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.

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 returned to school to finish his undergraduate studies. He took all the prerequisite courses to apply to medical school. While studying for the Medical College Admission Test, Dr. Howick taught himself math and science with the help of YouTube videos. He won a national contest that gave him the opportunity to create instructional videos for pre-medical students around the world.

While applying to medical school, Dr. Howick joined Teach for America and served as a high school math and science teacher in Harlem for two years, an experience he considers transformative. And while he was tempted to pursue teaching full-time, Dr. Howick says he resolved not to give up on medicine.

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 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

He recently completed his residency at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education and will enter a cardiology fellowship this year. He was named Intern of the Year for 2021-2022, an honor voted on by senior medical residents and program leaders.

As a volunteer, Dr. Howick had observed 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.

Research is also important to Dr. Howick. During residency, he worked with his mentor, cardiologist John Bois, M.D., on research involving heart conditions in patients with long-term COVID-19. His first-author publication in the American Journal of Medicine suggests a multidisciplinary approach should be used to assess the various heart conditions that can result from a COVID-19 infection. He and Dr. Bois will continue their research and collaboration long-distance as Dr. Howick transitions to the Florida campus.

Though it might not have been the original gameplan, returning to Mayo Clinic in Florida with his wife and two young children feels like a homerun for Dr. Howick.

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

This article was originally published in Mayo Clinic News Network — Baseball’s best trade: Former ball player trains to become a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic.