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Pediatric urologist Dr. John Gearhart credits MSU preparation for his success 

Dr. John GearhartEven though he works at one of the country's top-ranked hospitals and medical schools, Dr. John Gearhart (Class of 1971) saw the opportunity to work at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as more of a stepping stone than a final stop in his medical career.  

"I packed my bags and came to Baltimore. And to be fair, I thought I'd be here 6-7-8 years or whatever," he said. "That was 30-something years ago. I'm still waiting."  

Gearhart is a professor and chief of pediatric urology at the Charlotte Bloomberg Children's Hospital at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He has become a sought-after pediatric surgeon, published researcher, guest speaker and impactful professor who has received numerous honors for his contributions to the field.  

Baltimore is a long way from Gearhart's Olive Hill home, but it was a journey he attributes to a foundation of knowledge and skills built at Morehead State University.  

Gearhart's appreciation for MSU started before he ever became an official student. He went to the Breckinridge Training School on campus for two summers taking summer enrichment courses under the instruction of the late Dr. George Young and Hazel Nolleau.  

"I thought to myself, if the quality of the faculty at Morehead is as good as the quality of the faculty of Breck, I think I should go there," he said.  

Gearhart admits that earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1971 from MSU was challenging. Science professors like Dr. Matt Pryor and Dr. Gerald DeMoss (Class of 1966, 1968), among others, put Gearhart through his paces, preparing him for the possibility of medical school.  

"They were terrific educators, they were very Socratic educators, and they were tough," he recalled. "I thought medical school was comprehensive, but I got a darn good foundation at Morehead State."  

Gearhart decided to pursue his medical school education within the Commonwealth, earning his M.D. from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 1975. He then completed two residencies further South at Augusta University's Medical College of Georgia, the first in general surgery in 1977 and the other in urology in 1980.  

Gearhart's interest in urology eventually became more specialized. It led to completing a fellowship in pediatric urology across the pond at the Alder Hey Children's Hospital of the University of Liverpool School of Medicine in 1981.  

embedded-news-john-gearhart-patient-pic.webp"I had an unbelievable exposure to complex conditions that you would have a hard time replicating at that time in the United States," he said. "I just thought, what an interesting time of life between 6 and 14 weeks, and that's when all of the major birth defects happen."   

After two years working as a urologist at St. Mary's Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia, Gearhart completed a second fellowship in pediatric urology at Johns Hopkins in 1985. This led to him joining the staff at Johns Hopkins and later being hired as a faculty member.  

As a surgeon, he specializes in congenital urological defects like bladder exstrophy (bladder developing outside the fetus), ambiguous genitalia and other significant urologic congenital disabilities.  

"That's not something people go to cocktail parties and talk about, but it, in a major way, affects the quality of life of young children," he said. "With the skills you've been educated to apply and use, you make a major difference in a child's life, and you go home feeling pretty good about that."   

Gearhart currently operates in a "tri-partite role" at Johns Hopkins as a researcher, surgeon, and instructor. With five junior surgeons under his mentorship at the time of his interview, he said it often becomes a highlight passing on his knowledge to future surgeons.  

"As I've gotten older, I enjoy those days as much as I like doing big cases all day. The young people is what makes coming to work fun," he said. "They teach me things, too. The old dog learns from the young people, too."  

At 71 years old, Gearhart said while he said he would "want to go out top" in his field, he still feels like he has plenty of passion and purpose to keep going. At the time of this interview, he was gearing up for a mission trip to Uganda with Johns Hopkins to perform operations day and night for a week. Over the course of his career, he has provided care to 1,000 patients from the United States and 16 other countries. 

Gearhart's contributions were recently recognized with one of the highest honors in his field. He was given the 2022 Richard W. Grady Humanitarian Award. Named for the late Dr. Richard W. Grady of Seattle Children’s Hospital, this award recognizes pediatric urologists who have advanced the standards of care for children born with bladder exstrophy.  

Despite the success that has taken him to the top of his field, Gearhart still recognizes the impact MSU had on his career. The Alumni Hall of Fame member (inducted in 1987) said if another aspiring medical professional wanted a place to start their journey, he believes they can reach lofty heights by becoming an Eagle.  

"I would tell any high school student in Ohio or West Virginia or Kentucky that they would get a superb education there," he said. "If they have any thoughts of professional school, I would encourage them to look at Morehead State very carefully." 

Morehead State University students are regularly accepted into professional schools above both state and national averages. To learn about science programs at MSU, call 606-783-2626

Photo, lower left: Dr. John Gearhart (Class of 1971), professor and chief of pediatric urology at the Charlotte Bloomberg Children's Hospital at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, pictured with the recipient of his 1000th bladder exstrophy closure.

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