Medical student’s past helps him stay focused on his future
November 7, 2019
Brandon Temel has now completed six blocks of study at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, keeping his focus forward on his dreams to become a doctor, while remembering what he overcame to get here.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but at the age of 7 when his father passed away, his mom decided to relocate him and his older brother to a small farming town in Kansas. “We moved into the farmhouse that my mom, grandparents, and great grandparents had lived in. It was our safe haven,” Temel said. “I think there were fewer than 50 people in town total. There was nothing in the town, no gas station, no grocery store. Just a few houses and a church."
In middle school, Temel only had nine classmates. His mom wanted him and his brother to have a better education, so she started driving them an hour and a half each way to attend a different school, eventually moving closer to the new school.
Even in a bigger high school, most of his classmates did not leave the state for college, attending state schools or community college. Temel, however, went big, traveling to the northeast to attend Boston College. “My freshman year was really tough. I felt like I was spending hours and hours just trying to catch up to get to the level others started at,” Temel said. “That transition was probably the hardest of my life academically.”
Temel used the challenge as a gut check. “I really had to think about why I was doing what I was doing and what the end goal was.” Temel had wanted to pursue medicine for a while, especially after losing his father at a young age. “In whatever facet of medicine, you have an opportunity to really help others.”
Plus, Temel wanted to prove that his mother’s sacrifices to provide him and his brother a better education were worth it. He pushed through and turned his grades around. Then, he spent a couple of years working at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston as a research coordinator to bolster his application to medical school.
As he started to travel for interviews at medical school, it was clear to Temel that VTCSOM was the place for him. “A lot of schools didn't really look into the person deeply enough. I think Virginia Tech gave the effort to know what I was capable of doing and saw what I overcame to get here.”
Now in his second year of study at VTCSOM, Temel said the supportive environment has continued. “Anything I've been interested in, the faculty have been supportive,” Temel said. “Every single student in their first year has dinner with Dr. Knight [senior dean for student affairs]. Opportunities like that to get to know people and have people know your name and know who you are, and care to get you to the same goal that you're trying to get to, is huge.”
Beyond the supportive, small-knit community, Temel was also drawn to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine for the research curriculum. “I knew that I wanted to do research in school. There are opportunities for it in most medical schools, but VTCSOM really prioritizes it,” Temel said.
Temel is being mentored by T.K. Miller, professor and vice chair of the Department of Orthopaedics. They will be testing if different types of nerve blocks can help better manage pain after surgery to delay use of opioids. If effective, the hope is that post-surgical patients could reduce the number of opioids consumed and reduce dependence.
The day-to-day work of medical school now keeps Temel focused on the next big goal: to graduate and earn a spot in a residency program. “I think at the end of the day, and what my mom also will tell me, is to go wherever the best opportunity is. So, I'm going to apply to the best programs that I can, with the best fit for me, and go from there. I don't know what specialty that will end up being yet, but something that makes me feel like this whole journey is all worth it.”
Temel is a recipient of the Sam and Priscilla McCall VTC Endowed Scholarship. The late Sam McCall was raised in Richlands, Virginia, and studied for a year in business administration at Virginia Tech with the Class of 1958. He moved away from the area to Texas, but his family that remained in rural Southwest Virginia faced limited access to health care. Sam and his wife, Priscilla, who now serves on the VTCSOM Dean’s Council on Advancement, created the scholarship with the hopes that some graduates would stay to practice in the area or other underserved communities.