March 15, 2021, 12:55 p.m. David Mitchell — For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic will force most fourth-year medical students to celebrate Match Day virtually. Although the gatherings may be smaller and online, some things won’t change.
“I want to remember the people who helped me get here and who will be part of my life no matter where I go,” said Hannah Smith, a fourth-year student at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine in Greenville, N.C.
For Smith, that includes Charles Rhodes, M.D., a family physician from Mt. Pleasant, N.C., who has been her mentor for nearly a decade.
“I called Dr. Rhodes and told him to keep Match Day open on his calendar because I’m going to invite him to Zoom,” said Smith, who will get her results — along with thousands of others — from the National Resident Matching Program at noon ET on March 19.
Smith volunteered at a local hospital as a high school sophomore before family members who are Rhodes’ patients encouraged her to shadow the family doctor.
“I have another doctor at that practice, but my family — mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins — see Dr. Rhodes,” she said. “They all said, ‘You’ll love Dr. Rhodes.’”
They were right.
Rhodes, one of the founders of the Atrium Health Cabarrus Family Medicine Residency program, was planning a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Smith took night classes during her junior year of high school to become a certified nursing assistant so she could help with the mission trip the following school year.
She missed a week of school (and her senior prom), but the trek through multiple villages left a lasting impression.
“I loved how Dr. Rhodes could treat anyone anywhere,” Smith said. “We saw people in their homes, at a church, in abandoned buildings. I want to be able to treat anyone, anywhere, with any problem. I want to take care of the underserved. It doesn’t matter if it’s urban or rural. I want to help people who wouldn’t get care otherwise.”
Smith, who grew up on her parents’ cattle farm near a town of fewer than 2,000 people, ranked more than a dozen residency programs during the Match process. Although she doesn’t yet know where she will complete her training, she has a good idea about where she ultimately wants to practice.
“I definitely want to practice in North Carolina,” she said. “I also want to teach. It doesn’t have to be in medical school. I want to have students and residents who can come and learn from my community and be inspired to take care of people wherever they are.”
Smith has learned her own share of lessons in recent years as a student leader at the state and national level. She serves as a student member of the North Carolina Medical Society’s legislative cabinet and as her medical school’s delegate to the AMA student section.
Her role as student director-elect of the North Carolina AFP Board will include serving as an alternate delegate at the AAFP’s Student Congress during the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in July.
Smith is national coordinator of the AAFP’s Family Medicine Interest Group Network, where she served as a regional coordinator last year. She’s also a member of the Academy’s Commission on Education.
Smith said her plethora of leadership roles have provided her with mentoring as well as connections to other medical students.
“I’ve learned that everyone’s journey is different and you can’t speak for everyone based on your own experience,” she said. “The best way to create change is to bring people to the conversation who have experienced something different from you.”