Faculty Spotlight: Brad Chadwell, PhD

Dr. Brad Chadwell serves as Associate Professor of Anatomy at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Dr. Chadwell earned his Ph.D. in Biology at Wake Forest University, a M.S. in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a B.S. in Zoology from Weber State University. 

After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Chadwell was a faculty member in the Biology Department at Guilford College teaching undergraduate Biology courses before beginning a postdoctoral research position at Northeast Ohio Medical University. During this time, he had the opportunity to teach Human Anatomy to first-year medical students. Additionally, he taught Human Anatomy at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as providing instruction in Histology, Embryology and Neuroanatomy within a clinically-based curriculum. 

With family roots in Idaho and neighboring states, Dr. Chadwell is excited to return to the West. He has an active research program studying functional morphology, in particular, investigating anatomical differences among animals that relate to performance in locomotion. Differences in performances are compared to changes in the individual’s survival and reproduction. Investigating the relationship between form, function, and fitness provides better understanding of the mechanisms that drive animal diversity and evolution.

Throughout his academic career, Dr. Chadwell has worked on research projects using a broad taxonomic sample: spiders, moths, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals (including, but not limited to, non-human primates, bats, opossums, and sloths). Plans for future research include continuing his research into the relationship between morphology and escape performance in aquatic vertebrates, in addition to on-going collaborations with several researchers from a variety of universities, including Boise State University.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in anatomy?

A: At the start of my undergraduate education, I really had no career goal in mind. During my freshman year, various events directed me to the healthcare field, as it offered ample career opportunities. I was particularly drawn to physical therapy and began the process of taking the prerequisite courses, heavy in biological sciences, and volunteering with the PT at the local hospital. During my sophomore year, I took a human anatomy course that utilized prosected donors. That course solidified both my interest and aptitude for anatomy. The next quarter, I signed up for the comparative vertebrate anatomy course, a tough but fascinating learning experience. While I appreciated the anatomical application of physical therapy, my comparative anatomy professor inspired my interest in understanding how different species using the same anatomical structures are capable of vastly different functional capabilities, e.g. high running speeds of cheetahs vs. powerful digging forces by anteaters. That next summer, I joined his research lab and began the long and winding road that ultimately lead me to joining the ICOM A-Team. It seems like serendipity that my initially interest in anatomical studies is the third tenet of osteopathic medicine: structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

Q: How did you transition into academia, and what inspired you to work at ICOM?

A: Once I decided to pursue my graduate studies, working in academia was my career path. However, I had envisioned that I would be teaching at the undergraduate level; my “dream” job was teaching and doing research at a small liberal arts college. After receiving my Ph.D., I accepted a postdoctoral research position in a lab that happened to be located at the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). During my time there, I was offered the opportunity to work as an anatomy lab instructor, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once my postdoctoral contract ended, that experience allowed me to land an anatomy lecturer position with Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM). As for my decision to join ICOM, I spent much of my youth in living in Washington, Idaho, and Utah but spent much of my adult life in the East. When visiting my sister, who lives in Pocatello, I was told about a new osteopathic school in the process of opening up in the Treasure Valley — the first in Idaho. I was intrigued. The opportunity to return back to the West coast, closer to family, AND to be a founding faculty member of medical school with a mission to increase medical access to the region was too good to pass up.

Q: What is a memorable research project you’ve worked on?

A: Hands down, one of my most memorable project was when I was invited by a good friend and colleague to assist one of his graduate student on his Master’s project to describe the muscular architecture of sloth hind limbs. We spent nearly two weeks at a sloth sanctuary on the Gulf Coast of Costa Rica. Studying the bizarre and fascinating anatomy of sloths, visits to the beach, and hikes in the rain forest are memories I won’t ever forget. Waking up to the sounds of sloth calls in the morning and falling asleep to the cacophony of howler monkey is something I never imagined I’d experience. And fun anatomy fact, did you know that sloths and manatees are the only mammals that don’t have 8 cervical vertebrae? Even the giraffe and whales have 8 cervical vertebrae. Another cool sloth anatomy fact: their trachea descends all the way into their thoracic cavity, near their diaphragm and behind their heart, where it undergoes two hair-pin turns before bifurcating into the bronchi!

Q: What is the best part of your job?

A: This is a tough one to answer. The best part of working at ICOM is my colleagues. As a whole, I have found that we all are working towards the same goals and our support for each other is wonderful. More specifically, I could not have asked to work with a better anatomy team. We build on each others strengths and no matter the difficulties that arise, we come together to either solve the problem or adapt to the circumstances. But what I enjoy most about my job are those moments in the lab when a student discovers the same awe and fascination for the machine we call the human body that I discovered back in my first human anatomy course as a graduate student.

Q: What advice do you have for ICOM’s student doctors as they prepare to become physicians?

A: Find the joy and fascination in learning the foundational biomedical sciences over the first two years of your medical education. Yes, you are learning a lot of new and difficult information over a broad range of subjects. But if you can approach each session looking for the bits of information that suddenly click to reveal the amazing complexities that sustain life, it’s no longer an onerous task. Rather, it opens a world of discovery and allows you to appreciate how robust the human body can be, yet still be so fragile. This will not be easy. There will be so much asked of you and there will be struggles. But if your mind is always open, looking for those fascinating kernels of knowledge, regardless of whether they have any clinical application, learning will be an adventure, not a chore. I mean, seriously, how cool is it that the sloth’s trachea has two hair-pin turns! What is that even about?

Share This Story