A Q&A with the home team captain

Dr. Matthew DiBartolomeo was born and raised in Amherstburg, but traveled to Ireland for his medical degree. He’s very proud to be back home pursuing his residency in family medicine and In this Q&A, he shares how the 1990’s television program ER and Dr.Greene influenced him, how the wide-scope of family medicine captured his imagination and his heart, and the enormous pride he feels as the chief resident for Family Medicine in Windsor.

Dr. Matthew DiBartolomeoWhy did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?

Looking back, there are two sources of inspiration that motivated me to pursue a career in medicine and become the first member of my family to be a physician.

As a child growing up in the rural community of Amherstburg, Ontario I spent my fair share of time in hospital emergency departments and private clinics. From infections to injuries, throughout my childhood I accumulated a great deal of clinical experiences, with some being more memorable than others.

Of all my early experiences, the one that put me on a path toward a career in medicine was my time spent in the waiting room. As I sat waiting to be seen, my attention would shift toward the other patients and I would often ask myself, why are these people here and what is it that they need? It was then that I first noticed my natural instinct to help others in need, an instinct that not only motivated me to pursue a medical career, but also continues to drive me as I move through my medical training.

In addition to having a natural instinct to care for others, my decision to pursue a career in medicine was helped by my favourite childhood television show.

Growing up in the nineties my favorite show wasn’t Saturday Night Live or Boy Meets World, but the medical drama E.R.

Every week I would look forward to watching the doctors of Chicago County General save lives. Although the heart pounding drama was exciting to watch, what I looked forward to the most was watching Dr. Mark Greene.

To me Dr. Greene was a superhero. Whether performing a blind pericardiocentesis, treating an overdose or just clipping a hangnail, he never disappointed.

What was even more remarkable about Dr. Greene was that while being a skilled physician he was also a great teacher, beloved coworker, and compassionate human being. It was in these moments every Thursday I made a significant realization about myself. It was during these moments that I not only decided to become a doctor, but to become a doctor just like Dr. Mark Greene.  

Pursuing a medical career has always been an ambition of mine. From the time I watched my first episode of E.R. to my medical school acceptance, I committed myself to becoming a doctor. I have always had a natural instinct to help those in need and am fascinated by the mysteries of the human body. These two traits, along with a little inspiration from Dr. Mark Greene, this hardworking and compassionate small-town boy from Amherstburg, Ontario, was propelled onto the arduous, yet rewarding, path of becoming a physician.

Why did you choose to family medicine?

Although I have always been motivated to become a doctor, initially I never considered what specialty I would practice in. Fortunately for me, after gaining experience in family medicine throughout my undergraduate medical training, deciding to pursue a career in family medicine became extremely easy for me. From the first day of my observership, to the last day of my family medicine electives, I loved working in family medicine clinics.

My passion for family medicine lies in the fact that family physicians have a wide scope of practice. Unlike other specialties, family physicians are the first point of contact for patients and therefore they must be competent in a broad range of specialties. Throughout the day, I get to transition amongst specialties with every patient consult, each one bringing its own unique set of challenges. I love that it is possible to treat patients spanning across all ages and varying specialties as well, which makes the day interesting and challenging and motivates me to grow and develop as a physician.

Encountering a broad range of clinical presentations certainly keeps me on my toes throughout the day, but family medicine also provides the opportunity to personally connect with patients to get to know the “individual” aside from just the “patient.” Not all patients are looking for prescriptions, but rather for someone to confide in, or reassure them that everything will be fine even in the bleakest of circumstances.  

The opportunity to not only prevent death, but improve the quality of life by connecting with others on a personal level is something that is truly unique to family medicine and is another reason why choosing this specialty was a no-brainer.   

Why did you choose to pursue your residency at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?

Choosing to complete my residency training at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in Windsor was an easy decision for me. Since I grew up in Amherstburg, after completing five years of medical school in Ireland, I wanted to come back home to complete my training.

Of course, despite growing up in the area all my life, the program in Windsor is phenomenal and filled with amazing teachers that I know will prepare me to practice family medicine and give back to the community that I grew up in after graduating.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your patients so far?

The greatest lesson that I have learned from my patients so far is that you treat the person just as much, if not more, than the disease.

As a doctor, I see people when they are in need and most vulnerable and it is during these times that they will be placing their faith in me to provide some form of either physical or mental help. That can mean writing a prescription, ordering tests, performing procedures or even just simply listening, which is something that is easily overlooked.

In clinical settings, particularly as young doctors, it is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, focus on the pathology, but lose sight of the most important aspect of practicing medicine, improving the person’s quality of life.

What is important to remember is that every patient I see is somebody’s boyfriend, girlfriend, father, mother, son, daughter. They do not exist simply for us to learn how to treat new and interesting diseases or practice procedures on.

My patients have taught, and continue to remind me, that it is important to not lose sight of that vulnerable person hiding behind the disease. As Patch Adams once said, “If you treat a disease you either win or lose, but if you treat a person you win no matter what the outcome”, which is a lesson that I finally understand thanks to my patients.    

What does it mean to you to be the Chief Resident?

To me being the chief resident is a great privilege and represents the culmination of years of hard work. As an international medical graduate, the road to residency was a long and arduous one, but through dedication and a little bit of luck I was able to beat the odds. I would equate me being the chief resident in my home program to a young athlete that gets drafted to compete for his hometown team and then gets named captain. It is a privelge, an honour and a dream come true.     

What about your day-to-day work makes you most excited and/or the most anxious?

What makes me most excited about my day-to-day work is having the opportunity to teach and mentor medical students, but what makes me anxious is knowing that in about one year’s time residency will be over and I have no idea what the future will bring.   

What would your fellow residents find most surprising about you?

I think my fellow residents would find that prior to starting residency, I worked at Romano’s Specialty Meats & Italian Deli in Amherstburg for 12 years.

What might be more surprising is that even during my medical school years in Ireland, every Christmas break and summer vacation, instead of taking time off, I would show up for my shift every day until it was time to go back to school. I believe that my time there helped shape me into the young doctor I am today.

If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?

If I could have one super power it would be power mimicry. Mastering this super power would enable me to absorb and master all the super powers, with my two favourites being atomkinesis and healing. With atomkinesis I could make every day a perfect day, and with my healing powers my on-call shifts would be a breeze.