From Transfer Student to Neurosurgeon

Dr. Jonathan Russin C’00, G’02 on his journey that blossomed at Drew University

January 2024 – Jonathan Russin C’00, G’02 commenced his academic journey at Penn State University. His older brother had attended and he had dreams of playing lacrosse. The path made perfect sense at the time, until an accident changed everything. 

Russin had planned to travel to New Jersey with his best friend. Due to a last-minute change of plans, he did not join the trip. Tragically, his friend’s life was taken in a car accident during that journey.

Russin found himself at a crossroad. Understandably, his grades slipped and he eventually returned to his home in New Jersey, attending a local community college. “I really didn’t have a plan or direction,” he said.

He contacted former Drew’s Men’s Lacrosse Coach Tom Leonos, who had been a regular fixture at Russin’s high school lacrosse games. Leonos encouraged Russin to come to Drew and play lacrosse. “Tom was a big piece of the puzzle,” he said. “His consideration and understanding were representative of the culture at Drew.”

“Drew gave me an opportunity, and it totally changed my direction,” said Russin. “Having that structure, playing sports, and making new friends, Drew really became a place where I could develop a positive self image.”

“Drew’s small size was perfect for me at that time, I really needed a smaller group,” he continued. “The liberal arts emphasis was really important to help me understand where I wanted to go in medicine and knowing how to relate to your practice and your patients.”

Russin graduated cum laude with a degree in psychobiology from Drew.

Knowing he wanted to pursue admission to medical school, Russin enrolled in the Medical & Health Humanities program at Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. He entered with the intention of earning a certificate in the program, and stayed an additional year to earn a Master’s of Arts in Medical & Health Humanities. “I met a bunch of interesting people and had a great experience,” he said.

As an alum of the program, Russin returned this year to speak to Medical & Health Humanities students virtually, and is in discussion to participate in an upcoming colloquium this spring.

Upon graduation of Russin’s second Drew degree, he landed an acceptance to Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Drew was really a very supportive environment and important to getting me ready to go to medical school,” he said.

He graduated at the top of his class and matched in neurosurgery at the University of Southern California (USC), followed by a fellowship at the Barrow Neurological Institute, one of the most famous clinical fellowships in the U.S.

He has since returned to USC, where he has been performing clinically innovative work for the past decade. He has been published in high-impact journals, including Nature Biomedical Engineering, Nature Neuroscience, and Neuron

Russin and his team tout many medical advances, including the first functional brain imaging using photoacoustic computed tomography in a collaboration with CalTech, where he is now a visiting associate. In addition, he created a NeuroReVascularization (NRV) Center at USC where they described the use of Botox to prevent arterial spasm in neurosurgery, the first use of direct bypass to prevent spinal cord stroke in complex aortic aneurysms, and described numerous novel technical advances in revascularization surgery.

“It’s been a long, windy road, but Drew was the first time I had the opportunity to feel successful and to feel a really supportive environment. “From my experience, I cannot say enough about the opportunities that Drew has provided.”

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