In 2015, Mathew Van Smith, 28, moved to Atlanta from Tucson, Arizona to pursue his dreams of becoming a physician at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM). His decision to move across the country wasn’t easy; at the time, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Medical school is famously high-pressured. Add a baby to the mix, and the notion of attending medical school in a city where he and his wife had no support network seemed daunting.
Although he left his extended family in Arizona, Van Smith would find another among his class at MSM. A couple months into his first year he became father to a son. And, shortly after his White Coat and Pinning Ceremony, where beginning medical students receive coats symbolizing their new career, his classmates threw him a surprise baby shower. Over the months, they even took turns babysitting his son.
“That was probably what solidified that I made the right decision coming to Morehouse—that kind of family environment,” Van Smith says.
Van Smith spoke last Friday as part of MSM’s annual Match Day, when students discover where they’ll be spending their residencies. MSM’s 73 matched students were among more than 30,000 medical students nationwide who learned where their journeys to becoming physicians would lead them next. Van Smith’s residency in radiology will be at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
The occasion is invariably an emotional one not just for medical students, but for their families. “Match Day is the realization of a dream birthed in your childhood, nurtured over the years through your hard work and perseverance and sacrifice,” said MSM President and Dean Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice.
MSM students were matched with programs at Duke University, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, University of Central Florida, and more. More than 35 percent of the graduating class will stay in Georgia, including the aptly named Aaron Doctor. Doctor, 30, will be practicing obstetrics and gynecology at MSM—helping fulfill the school’s mission of increasing diversity among healthcare personnel and reaching underserved communities right here in Atlanta.
His family couldn’t have been more relieved. “For the last year people were asking me what I was going to do if he wasn’t matched here,” said Doctor’s wife, Danielle, holding back tears. “I don’t have any words.”
Danielle is a law student at Georgia State University, and the couple has a three-year-old son. “I moved here to be with [Danielle],” Aaron said. “I was looking for a program that I felt comfortable at, that I fit in [with], and Morehouse was it.”
MSM’s mission also inspired Chidimma Acholonu, 32, from New Jersey. While she will be practicing pediatrics at the University of Chicago, she aims to alleviate health disparities in communities there.
From sleepless nights to their family members’ constant reassurance, the students expressed their gratitude—mentioning that none of their success would be possible without their peers and loved ones.
“Without [them] you don’t make it through,” Acholonu said.
Dr. Montgomery Rice thanked the parents for allowing the students to attend Morehouse School of Medicine and giving the faculty the ability to, “raise them up to the point where [they can] continue to be proud of them,” she said.
With MSM’s guidance, the next generation of doctors and clinicians is eager to get out and implement the school’s mission. Van Smith says he wants to be an advocate for the underserved and to work to address the imbalances in health care. He says he found that focus at Morehouse School of Medicine. “They really embodied it.”