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r. Ben Carson, who has consistently polled at or near the front of the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, is also a gifted surgeon. He was chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for 29 years and orchestrated the first surgery in which twins, joined at the head, survived being separated.

If elected, Carson would be the first doctor to serve as US president. He talked with STAT about how his medical career shaped his politics.

Why did you become a doctor?

It was the only thing I ever wanted to do. Even as a youngster, I skipped right over policeman and fireman and went straight to doctor. And loved everything to do with medicine, including going to the doctor’s office and getting a shot. It’s an ingrained part of me.

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How does being a doctor prepare you to be president?

The key thing is you learn to make decisions based on evidence rather than on ideology. People who are ideologically driven never seem to be able to realize when something isn’t working.

What role do you think government should play in health care?

The key thing I would do is take people’s health care out of the political arena. That’s why I’ve advocated the use of health savings accounts — like a bank account, but only used for health. Insurance companies and government bureaucrats, they insinuate themselves in order to enrich themselves, but we don’t need them.

What would the impact of this be on poor people?

There are those who say ‘Carson doesn’t care about poor people, his plans are going to hurt them,’ when in fact, [my plans] are much better for poor people. It gives them choice, it teaches them personal responsibility, and it doesn’t make them second-class citizens.

How do you balance your religious views with your training as a doctor?

I’ve never had any trouble because of my faith in taking care of patients.

You said when you were on President George W. Bush’s bioethics council that some people should be given the right to choose to end life-support. Where would you draw that line for yourself?

If I knew I was terminal and I was suffering a lot and my family was suffering a lot watching me suffering, I would certainly opt to be kept comfortable.

And if you had a child or grandchild saying “We’re not ready to let you go”?

I’m talking choice here. I’m not talking about forcing my will on other people. That’s one of the things we’re trying to get away from.

Do you support continued funding of the National Institutes of Health?

Having been in science and research my whole life, I’m struggling to try to remember anybody I’ve ever known who thought they had enough funding.

Dr. Ben Carson is a retired neurosurgeon and a Republican presidential candidate. He was director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center from 1984 until his retirement in 2013. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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