All roads lead to home
Internal Medicine resident Mat Gerving looks to use the RuralMed program to bring care to underserved parts of North Dakota.
From a young age, Mat Gerving told people he was going to be a doctor someday. Early exposure to healthcare was thanks to his mom, who worked as a nurse while Gerving was growing up.
“I was a military kid until I was about 15 years old,” Gerving said. “There would be days when my mom would take me to work with her so I wouldn’t be home alone.”
Gerving and his family moved around a lot during his elementary days, but settled in Beach, N.D., when Gerving was a sophomore in high school. As he watched upperclassmen graduate, he noticed none of them had plans to pursue a medical degree.
“We didn’t have the school visits from health professionals or anything. It just wasn’t a thing,” Gerving said.
While not having footsteps to follow was intimidating, that didn’t stop him from dreaming big.
When graduation approached, the University of North Dakota (UND) was calling his name. Gerving had researched and found that UND had a reputable pre-medicine program, the first step in his path to becoming a physician. He made the 400-mile journey from the western-most county in North Dakota to the eastern-most county, to begin his undergraduate studies in 2012.
Enter Evelyn Boss, a health sciences advisor for the Student Academic Success and Career Engagement Office at UND who serves as an advisor for students entering any of the nine pre-health programs at UND. According to Boss, the pre-medicine program, specifically, sees enrollment of roughly 200 students per year. While pre-medicine is not a major itself, the curriculum can be applied to any other major at UND.
“Many pre-med students do go on to medical school, while others pursue different health careers,” she said.
Boss notes that it takes more than just good grades to earn the white coat. “Medical schools are looking for well-rounded applicants who demonstrate not only academic excellence, but also a dedication to service as well as experience in healthcare.” Gerving credits the help of the advisement services through the pre-med program with helping him earn his place in medical school. “I worked as a C.N.A. (certified nursing assistant) because I was encouraged by my advisor that it would help my medical school application,” Gerving said.
It certainly helped. He was accepted into the UND School for Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) in 2016 and joined 77 other students in the Doctor of Medicine Class of 2020.
Once Gerving’s goal of becoming a physician was under way, it was time to hone in on what type of doctor he wanted to be. During medical school, he had heard about the RuralMed program, which is a state-funded program that forgives medical school tuition in return for working in a rural North Dakota community for five years following residency.
Gerving wasn’t sure if rural family medicine was the path he wanted to take, but it wasn’t out of the question. As a third-year student, Gerving participated in Rural Opportunities in Medical Education (ROME), where he spent 28 weeks in Hettinger, N.D. It was during his ROME experience that he found his calling.
“I absolutely fell in love with rural practice,” Gerving said.
He noted that his time spent with internal medicine physician Dr. Joshua Ranum (’08) was pivotal in helping him understand, and love, what rural medicine was all about. “I had such a good time during ROME,” Gerving said. “You get the cardiology questions, you get the [gastrointestinal] questions, you cover emergency room and run traumas, you do it all.”
After that, it just made sense to sign on to the RuralMed program to assist with reducing his education debt as he continued to pursue his dream, which now included a rural focus. It also helped him and his wife, Stephanie, breathe a little easier knowing medical school tuition was no longer a burden. The Gervings, who were high school sweethearts, have three children and another on the way. Both have family who still live in Beach, and moving to a rural community after residency, especially close to family, was an easy choice to make.
Gerving is now in the middle of his second year of an internal medicine residency at UND SMHS in Fargo. While kids, family, and residency keep him busy every waking hour, Gerving continues to keep his sights set on a rural future. Although his residency training is in the largest city in the state, he takes a special interest in patients who are transferred from rural areas. Gerving said he is always wondering how he can help patients get care closer to home.
“I am always asking the attending physician’s opinion on ways to keep rural patients from having to be flown to larger cities. Things like increasing access to telemedicine, training for rural physicians, and other technology are very interesting to me,” he said.
He wants other future physicians to think that way, too, noting that he encourages medical students who train with him to consider rural medicine. “I let them know that some of the smartest doctors I have worked with are rural medicine docs,” Gerving said.
While he is eager to finish residency in 2023, Gerving is taking advantage of his training and soaking up everything that will help him become a great doctor, and a rural physician leader. After residency, Gerving plans to begin his internal medicine practice in Dickinson, N.D., located just 60 miles away from grandparents and family in his hometown of Beach.