Medical student inspired by brother’s disability, childhood pediatrician to become a doctor
October 12, 2020
There were a lot of trips to the doctor when Kyle Nolan was young, not so much for him but for his older brother, who lives with cerebral palsy. An observant youngster, Nolan was fascinated by how his pediatrician, Kae McCaffery, could assess his brother who couldn’t speak and was confined to a wheelchair, and make him comfortable.
“Early on, I decided this was a role I wanted to play for my brother and others as well,” Nolan, a second-year student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, said. “The comforting impact Dr. McCaffery had on my family and the life-improving solutions he provided my brother left a lasting impression. I credit my desire to be a doctor to him.”
Nolan had to push through a few obstacles in order to pursue his dream. First and foremost, no one in his family had gone to college, much less pursued an advanced degree. His father was a carpenter. His mother stayed home to take care of his brother full-time. Both had talked about college, but life took a different course for them.
“My parents always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do,” he said. “They always wanted to see me succeed. I think it’s very meaningful to them that I’ve come this far.”
Growing up in a small town in Colorado, Nolan felt out-of-place when he enrolled in a nearby large state university after high school.
“I felt like a number,” he said. “In some ways, it took away from my educational experience.”
After taking three years off working in a gravel yard, he enrolled in the pre-med program at Metropolitan State University of Denver, graduating Summa Cum Laude.
When looking at medical schools, Nolan was attracted by the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s small class size of under 50 students. “The small class size was a huge factor for me,” Nolan said. “I felt like I would be able to engage not only with a wider variety of students, but also have more a personal relationship with facilitators and professors.”
After being accepted to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Nolan received the school’s Charter Class Endowed Scholarship. This scholarship was established by the charter class to recognize deserving students who are members of underrepresented populations of students.
Another draw was the sense of community he felt in Roanoke. It was a long way from home, but he and his wife Brittany felt they were going to be part of the community, not just visitors for four years.
“Sometimes we just smile and say to each other, ‘We’re in Virginia now,’” Nolan said.
Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Star has become one of their favorite spots. In fact, after a full day of interviewing for a spot in the class of 2023, Nolan drove up to the Mill Mountain Star and looked down over the city. It was at that moment that he realized, “I can see myself being here.”
Soon after moving to Roanoke, the couple had the photo for their baby announcement made just below the star. Their daughter, Kodie, was born in November 2019, four months after Nolan started medical school.
“Medical school and fatherhood with a baby present some unique challenges, especially when having to work from home so much due to COVID,” Nolan said. “Luckily, I have an awesome wife who understands what my schooling means to me and how rigorous it can be at times. But it’s also really important to me to have dedicated family time at night to spend with Kodie and Brittany.”
Nolan came to medical school with a strong research portfolio. He served as a research assistant in two separate labs after college, has one first-author journal publication, is listed as a secondary author on four others, and presented at an international conference.
For his medical school research project, Nolan is working in the lab of John Chappell, associate professor in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, to determine the ultrastructural characteristics of three subtypes of pericytes to help differentiate their roles in regulating/maintaining brain microvasculature.
As far as a specialty he plans to pursue, Nolan’s first response is pediatrics, but he leaves room to change his mind.
“When I was young, Dr. McCaffery showed me what being a doctor could be,” he said. “His level of care ensured my brother’s quality of life. I attribute both my brother and Dr. McCaffery to where I am today. I definitely wouldn’t be here without either of them.”