Medicine has been in his blood since age five for Tanner Corse.
Both he and his sister contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare but serious disease that affects the kidneys of infected people, at a young age. The disease destroys red blood cells, which can cause kidney failure. The two young Corse children were hospitalized at Johns Hopkins for a month apiece, undergoing dialysis, and in serious trouble before doctors could turn the tide and save their lives.
Ever since, the Corse family has considered doctors to be literal lifesavers in their vocation. Fittingly, it was just a matter of time before Corse himself pursued a medical degree. Now he is in his fourth year at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, poised to graduate in June, and planning to pursue a residency in Combined Internal Medicine & Pediatrics. But he’s also diversified his interest over the course of his time at the school, including COVID-19 clinical research projects, and also a life-changing trip to assist on a reservation in the Southwest.
It all comes back to the experience of a little child who was saved by doctors himself all those years ago.
“From that first experience, which I barely remember, it was always at the back of my mind, to be a doctor,” he said. “It’s this huge, challenging undertaking that can help a lot of people, like myself, and be really fulfilling.”
“Tanner is one of those up and coming professionals who is really well-rounded and will make a great difference to patients and colleagues,” said Jeffrey Boscamp, M.D., the interim dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “We can’t wait to see what trajectory his career will take.”
FROM NUTLEY… TO THE NAVAJO NATION
Corse was originally going to consider a highly specialized surgery role when he started his pursuit of a medical degree.
But that quickly changed, considering what he saw, experienced and felt during the early part of his medical education.
It all started from the very first interview day, and the words of Founding Dean Bonita Stanton, M.D., to the prospective students.
“Dr. Stanton gave this huge, inspiring speech that made me feel like I was going to change the world, walking out of it,” Corse recalls. “Four years later, I still have the same feeling.”
The Human Dimension experience was a particular eye opener, from the first day. He and his student partner were paired with a local woman, an undocumented single mother of two who works three part-time jobs to make ends meet, and lived paycheck to paycheck. One of her children also had uncontrolled epilepsy and resulting health problems. Corse and his partner together found a way to help her get better access to health care, including a free clinic. They assisted the best way they could find, as they developed the clinical and personal relationship with that family in need.
That connection also led to further work with the Nutley Family Service Bureau, helping local people in the School’s community get access to mental health resources, groceries, and school assistance during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That kind of opened my eyes a bit,” he said. “I came to medical school thinking I was going to be the most specialized surgeon in the world… but now that I’ve gone through it all, I want to be a more generalist, and have a focus on confronting barriers outside of the confines of the hospital.”
This also led to a life-changing trip to a Navajo reservation in Arizona in September 2021. Corse did a rotation at an Indian Health Services hospital which was five hours from the nearest major medical center. There he helped many seeking medical care for the first time in their lives and also some rippling factors related to the difficult times, including startling increases in obesity since the start of the pandemic. But there was also the whole education he picked up while there: lessons about rural life, the Navajo culture, the harsh realities of historical injustice and poverty.
“It was an incredible experience. Before that I had never even been west of Ohio,” said Corse. “It goes in line with what Dean Stanton envisioned when she first started the school. I want to figure out how to empower patients to tackle their own health problems, and not just write prescriptions and throw them at them.”
TIME OF NEED, TIME FOR RESEARCH
COVID-19 changed Corse’s trajectory a bit in other ways, as well.
But when he was pulled from his clinical rotations, as all non-essential personnel were required to do at the most dire point in the first wave of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in New Jersey, he “caught the research bug.”
Thus sidelined, he reconnected with a former employer, the California-based Humanigen. Corse helped lead the submission and communications of the extensive clinical, manufacturing, and financial grant proposal to obtain Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) funding for Lenzilumab, an immunomodulator therapy for COVID-19. He spent four months helping launch the Phase III clinical trial of the drug, aimed at stopping the “cytokine storm” triggered by the coronavirus.
As the pandemic lockdowns lifted and business began again, he also pivoted to other research projects as opportunities arose at Hackensack Meridian Health. The RACE trial, which was helmed by the Mayo Clinic, sought to track people via handheld EKG and see if there was association between COVID infections and tracing patterns, using advanced machine learning. Corse assisted on that national trial here locally.
The “stars aligned” after that. He became a research fellow for the Department of Urology at Hackensack University Medical Center under Dr. Michael Stifelman. In the role since mid-2021, he has helped enroll patients into four surgical databases as well as several clinical trials: all aimed at improving patient outcomes and improving the standard of care for patients undergoing urologic oncologic surgery.
“The position gave me the opportunity to perform research with the potential to immediately impact patients’ lives, but also I now feel I have the experiences necessary to lead my own research efforts going forward.,” said Corse.
The ultimate career goal: to lead his own studies and trials, and to make a difference for patients – both those individuals in his care, and also those groups who could benefit from his application of science.
Corse grew up in Maryland, the son of a former professional musician. He grew up crabbing and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. He himself loves drums and saxophone, and active pursuits like soccer and golf. His parents are still there, and his younger sister is on the island of Oahu. His significant other works in finance in Manhattan, and it’s unclear where his residency will have him living in the years to come. But he’s interested in getting married, having a family, perhaps coaching youth sports someday.
First up is Match Day, and then graduation. After that, he is ready to undertake his vocation in earnest.
“I’m ready to have my own patients, I’m ready to have the ‘M.D.’ after my last name,” said Corse.