Boy Wonder

updated 05/29/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/1995 01:00AM

DR. BALAMURALI AMBATI IS THE sort of physician whose résumé engenders trust: He was among the top-ranking graduates of Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York City and he has already coauthored a book on AIDS. He could even make house calls, since, at age 17, Ambati just got his driver's license.

On May 19 the teenage prodigy graduated with his class, making him—as far as anyone knows—the youngest M.D. in the world. The twig had been bent early on, when Ambati was smitten by the hustle and bustle he witnessed as a 4-year-old while hospitalized for three months after his legs were scalded by a spilled pot of rice. He and his brother Jayakrishna, now 24 and also a doctor, had come to New York from India in 1980 with their father, Murali, 53, an industrial engineer, and mother, Gomathi, 49, a math professor. "We put him in school at 6," says Gomathi. "Within two weeks he had finished the first grade, and two months later he finished second grade. He also finished third grade that year." By 11, he and his brother had written an introductory book on AIDS aimed at students that was acclaimed by the American Medical Association. At 14, he became the youngest graduate in the history of New York University.

"His age never really seemed to be an issue," says Jim Killius, 33, a classmate at the State University of New York at Buffalo campus, where Ambati spent his first two years of medical school before transferring to Mt. Sinai. "Teenagers think they know everything, but he kind of does know everything." During his two years at Mt. Sinai, Ambati worked with a trauma team in the emergency room, where he dealt with many gunshot victims—not all of whom survived. "The first time a person dies on the operating table," he says somberly, "it's traumatic for anybody."

Ambati, who will be doing an internship in Manhasset, N.Y., before moving on to the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston for his residency, does have other interests—chess, Ping-Pong, basketball and the Buffalo Bills. He doesn't date, he says, because "I'm too busy, and besides, in our culture we don't date." Still he does have time for TV especially ER and Chicago Hope. But he's never even seen Doogie Howser M.D., the ABC sitcom about a teenage doctor. Doogie was probably too immature for him anyway.

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