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    Photo Matthew Civilette

    August 03, 2021

    Learning How to Live


    If Matt Civilette ’18 seemed exhausted, you could hardly blame him. He’d spent 30 of past 48 hours in a Washington, D.C., area hospital, assisting with an array of knee, hip and ankle replacements. And yet far from appearing fatigued, he seemed invigorated, filled with an energy that came from doing something that fills him with meaning. Medicine was not the path Civilette envisioned for himself when he was a child growing up in Fredonia, N.Y. (“I was always that kid who wanted to work for NASA,” he recalls.) Then one day he found himself visiting his grandmother in the hospital. His inquisitive nature took over. Civilette peppered every doctor, nurse and technician he met with an avalanche of questions about their work, and they responded to all of them. Something inside him began to shift – as did his plans for the future. By the time he was nearing the end of high school, he was shadowing doctors as they made their rounds at local clinics and envisioning an entirely new future for himself, one that included not spacesuits and orbital telescopes, but scrubs and medical drills.  


    Today, Civilette is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and a fourth-year student at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. Training to become a doctor is a taxing, demanding and absorbing enterprise under any circumstances. After all, medical students witness the entirety of the human experience, from the joy that comes from the birth of a healthy baby to the sorrow that follows the death of a loved one. It is, in Civilette’s words “far rawer” than is sometimes depicted in popular culture, particularly in television shows like ScrubsHouse and Grey’s Anatomy. He can’t say for sure whether undergoing medical training in the midst of a once-in-century global pandemic amplifies the emotional aspect of this work. (After all, COVID-19 has been a presence around the world for nearly half of the time he has been in medical school.) Still, it’s hard to imagine that the crisis hasn’t profoundly shaped the experience, and what it means to be a caregiver, for Civilette and his classmates. 


    What the Le Moyne alumnus is certain of is that to be a good doctor, “you don’t have to be dry and serious every single moment.” If anything, that could be off-putting or even frightening to someone who is sick or in pain. What you do have to do is to follow your patients’ lead, to ask thoughtful questions and to listen carefully to the answers. One case in point is a woman with a badly fractured leg whom Civilette recently treated. He introduced himself and explained how he was going to treat her injury, and she was immediately at ease. They spent about 15 minutes together, “just shooting the breeze.” Civilette knows that approach might not have worked for every patient, for example, one who was scared or whose condition was more precarious. But in this instance, it was successful.


    The importance of meeting other others where they are was imparted upon Civilette throughout his time at Le Moyne. In fact, the biology major says that the courses he took in the humanities were as critical to helping him along the path he’s on today as any of those he took in the physical sciences. He enrolled in a course on international politics led by Anirban Acharya, Ph.D., that trained him to think carefully before crafting an argument, and another on spiritualty with Daryl Catterine, Ph.D., that helped him to better understand people whose beliefs diverge widely from his own. He remains in touch with both professors today, which speaks to something else that was instilled in him at Le Moyne: a sense of community. 


    Over the course of his time on the Heights, Civilette came to understand that a Jesuit education is less about what you learn and more about how you choose to live. That is a lesson he will continue to carry forward with him as he embarks upon his career. After he graduates from Georgetown in the spring of 2022, he will spend five years working as a doctor for the U.S. Navy, specializing in orthopedics. He is eager to live and work abroad, perhaps in Okinawa, Japan, Naples, Italy, or Ronda, Spain. To him, being a good doctor, and being a good human being, means exploring the world and understanding more about what makes all of us different and alike. For him, it comes down to this:


    “We come from different walks of life. We’ve had different experiences. But I see you.”

    Category: Alumni in Action