JACKSON BLEVINS ’21 | STAFF WRITER • Matthew Hodges ‘19 has been molded by his liberal arts college experience thus far at Wabash, and this past summer, he had a unique experience that enhanced his education outside of the classroom. Hodges, a mathematics major pursuing minors in biology and chemistry, took a slight risk when he decided he wanted to be a part of an eight-week program that placed college students in rural eastern Kentucky. The program he participated in was called the Courier Program that was through Frontier Nursing University in Leslie County, a school focused on public health and advanced degree nursing.
Hodges first learned about the program through Jill Rogers, his Pre-Med advisor and the Global Health Coordinator for the Global Health Initiative. She recommended the program to him and thought he would be a perfect fit for the summer opportunity. Hodges also had insight from Anthony Douglas ‘17 who had participated in the same program in the summer between his junior and senior year. Douglas relayed to Hodges that he had a very transformative experience in the summer program, and this only furthered Hodges’ desire to participate in the program.
Hodges was a jack of all trades for the clinic, doing anything they asked of him, but he had a few activities that took up the majority of his time. Hodges presented to the community multiple times throughout the summer regarding issues such as diabetes and the use of naloxone (more commonly known as Narcan), an emergency treatment option for opioid overdose. He also had the opportunity to work alongside case managers who dealt with issues outside of the clinic. Hodges got first-hand experience of dealing with members of the community in their homes while they dealt with chronic illnesses.
Hodges cited that there were very normal days at the clinic that dealt with patients who had diabetes, hypertension, or other common chronic illnesses. However, Hodges pointed out that there were crazy days where
patients came in overdosed on heroin. Hodges pointed out that his biggest challenge was that he was placed in the dead-center of the opioid crisis that has rapidly spread across the country. Hodges had to stand face-to-face with the problems that opioid addiction has caused to rural Kentucky communities. A lot of the elderly people currently living in eastern Kentucky were coal miners, which most likely meant that one would have an intense back surgery at least once in their lifetime. This lead to physicians to prescribe many community members with painkillers, and this led to larger issues of addiction in the community that Hodges saw on a daily basis.
“The extent to which I was able to apply my liberal arts education was one of many things I loved about my experience,” Hodges said. “My favorite things were getting to broaden the way I think about medicine and the way I think about my future career while applying all the amazing things I’ve learned at Wabash so far. I realized when you are working in a field like public health, it is not enough to just know medicine. If you are to be an effective servant of public health, you need to be intimately familiar with the culture, economy, and history of the region you are working in. In the end, all of these things have factors that will affect the health of a community.” Hodges also cited the writing and speaking skills that are developed through one’s time as a Wabash student as something that made his life easier in the program.
Besides working during the day, Hodges had some time to relax and enjoy what rural Kentucky has to offer, as he lived alone for the whole summer. He was bunked up in a tiny house in Perry County that was next to an old bed and breakfast, a setup that he actually embraced and enjoyed. “One of the things I really liked about being in that part of the country was how quiet it was,” he said. “From where I was staying, I had to drive twenty minutes to get cell phone service. Overall, it was just a beautiful and natural landscape.”
Hodges is an aspiring physician that gave some unique insight on his experience this past summer and how it related to his future plans. He had the strong assertion that it can be easy for any student to find summer programs or internships that put a career path in a positive light. “It can be the same with pre-meds, as it can be very easy to find a program that showcases all of the good that western medicine is doing in our culture and how wonderful this field is,” he said. “However, I was able to find an opportunity that showed me some of the less flattering parts of what I want to do in the future. It made me think a lot about what I want to do in the future, and I still want to be a doctor. Because of this transformative experience, I am aware of the pitfalls and things to look out for in the industry.”
Hodges’ roommate at Beta Theta Pi, Grayson Thacker ‘19, definitely took note of some changes in his roommate and pledge brother. “When we first met up after his summer, he talked a lot about what he did on a consistent basis,” Thacker said. “You could definitely tell that that affected him in a positive way and it was a transformative experience.”
This experience shaped Hodges and his ideas for his future. “This has confirmed for me, as a physician, I don’t think my calling is going to be in a suburban office,” Hodges said. “I don’t think I would be content in an area that has a high standard of health. I know now through this experience that there are parts of our country that need a lot more help than others, and that’s where I want to go and use my talents.”