Melissa Matthews, MD, Shares Lessons From Her Journey Through Medical School

Melissa Matthews delivers a speechOn the afternoon of Nov. 7, Bay Area native Melissa Matthews, MD, spoke to an audience of over 100 eager students about her work in psychiatry and her journey through medical school, as part of the Pathways to Science Speaker Series, co-sponsored by the Black Student Union. Vanderbilt- and Harvard-trained, Matthews currently works at Kaiser in Sacramento. Matthews described the elements of a medical school application and how those elements apply to a career as a doctor. Emphasizing the importance of work and volunteer service, Matthews said that these experiences create a multidimensional doctor. “Patients come in with lots of layers,” Matthews said. “And the more layers of understanding you have of yourself, the more likely you are to connect with a patient.”

Matthews spoke about personal internal resources, which she broke down into “time, talent, and treasure.” She said, “Everyone has the same amount of time in a day—24 hours—and it’s up to you how you use it.” Talent, she said, varies. A component of talent is self-efficacy, which Matthews described as, “Your personal belief that you can accomplish your own goals. This is huge because medical school is very competitive, and you have to know you’re good enough, even if you don’t get the outside endorsement for it.”

Treasure, which consists of physical resources such as money, also varies.
Matthews compared a person’s resources to a bucket, with a person’s support system equating to the thickness of the bucket. “Support networks—your friends and family—fortify the lining of your bucket, so when you have good support, your lining is robust and resistant to wear and tear. If you don’t have a good support network, you’re more vulnerable to wear. If you think of a bucket with rust, you’ll run a leak, and your resources will drain.” Humans are made up of “mind, spirit, and soul,” continued Matthews. “If you are not being restored in some way each day, then you’re running at a deficit. Figure out how you’re made up, and pour into each one of those facets, ideally on a daily basis.” For Matthews, working four days a week instead of five and processing her work and life with her friend Nadine during weekly coffee dates help her restore herself. “The benefit of being able to show up four days a week is better than being in a half-cocked position five days a week when you sit with suicide, depression, and the heaviness of human existence. Nadine is a therapist, so we process our work and move on to our other interests.”

Getting into medical school is a difficult journey, but Matthews said that the friends you surround yourself with can have a large influence. “The pain of discipline is much less than the pain of regret. Bear down, and get around like-minded people so that you can be successful together.”