One journey, two paths. For lifelong friends Carlton Homan and Jayce Simoncic, their journey to medical school may have taken them along different routes for four years but they now find themselves back together as classmates on the path to becoming doctors.
As graduates of Smith-Cotton High School in 2016, neither realized that one day they would both be attending medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia where they are now in their first week of studies.
“Carlton and I have been friends for as long as I can remember,” Simoncic explained via email. “From kindergarten to 17th grade (one year of medical school), we’ve been great buddies. Playing football throughout middle school and high school only further strengthened our friendship. I am excited to take on medical school with a lifelong friend.”
Homan explained the two managed to stay in touch over the years, even while apart during their undergraduate education.
“We both are very motivated individuals who love learning and are excited for our careers as physicians,” Homan said via email. “I am very proud having the opportunity to share this experience with someone who has long been like a brother to me.”
While the two men have known one another since childhood, their path to medical school has been different. Simoncic said he has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember, while Homan said it has taken him some time to decide upon a career in the medical field.
“I really wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do, career-wise, when I was younger, but I did know that I loved science and thought medicine was perplexing which allowed it to hold my interest over the years,” Homan said. “It wasn't until I began getting more exposure working in the Emergency Department during my freshman year of college that I really solidified my desire to become a doctor. Once I started working directly with the physicians, seeing patients, and developing my knowledge of the field, I knew it was for me,”
Homan explained he is interested in several different specialties, the greatest of those being trauma surgery, plastic surgery, and emergency medicine.
“Trauma and EM come from my background working in the Emergency Room and as a research intern in the trauma department,” he noted. “You really get to treat the entire patient and very complex problems can present.
“I also find plastics, especially facial plastics, very interesting due to its complexity. Facial plastics was a field I was able to appreciate after having the opportunity to shadow with a family friend, Jacob Dey, at the Mayo Clinic who is an ENT resident currently interviewing for facial plastics fellowships across the country,” Homan continued. “Across these three fields, you have the opportunity to work with your hands, treat complex pathologies, and have amazing impacts on your patients' lives.”
Like Homan, Simoncic is still exploring his options explaining, “I have a lot of interest in orthopedics, ophthalmology, and anesthesiology.
“In those fields, I have had incredible shadowing experiences observing and learning from the following physicians: Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Douglas Kiburz, Ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Cox, and Anesthesiologists Dr. Terry Robertson and Dr. Jared Engles,” he said. “I am blessed to have grown up in Sedalia where health care professionals are willing to help young students reach their goals.”
Both are grateful to have attended Smith-Cotton, which they feel helped prepare them for college in many ways.
“Smith-Cotton prepared me very well for Mizzou and medical school by supplying great shadowing experiences, such as the Sedalia FIT Program, along with access to dual-credit classes to build my college transcript,” Simoncic noted. “I believe that the faculty at S-C not only were dedicated to building a strong foundation of knowledge for me but also to ensuring that I held core values that are needed to be successful.”
Homan added having the opportunity to take dual-credit classes provided exposure to college-level work. He also noted Mrs. Stuart's anatomy/physiology class was the first place he really recognized how much he loved learning about science and the body.
As an undergraduate at Missouri State University in Springfield, Homan felt he was well prepared to transition to medical school.
Simoncic chose to attend MU for his undergraduate studies. During his first four years, “MU gave me everything I was wanting to get from my college experience and more.”
“As a Biochemistry Major, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at MU not only prepared me well for the MCAT and medical school through the sciences but also provided valuable research experiences,” he said.
“While learning the topics of biochemistry in lecture, I was also able to apply that knowledge to a real-world biochemistry lab,” he continued. “Also, student organizations supplied further volunteering and shadowing experiences. Through MU Global Brigades, I was able to travel to Honduras with a student medical/dental brigade to assist in supplying medical care for underserved areas.”
Simoncic added in addition, the friendships and memories he has built throughout his four years at Mizzou will stay with him forever. Welcoming his childhood friend has helped during this first week of medical school.
“Three days into medical school, my favorite part so far has been meeting all of my amazing classmates,” Simoncic said. “Hearing the different stories and experiences of my peers from very different backgrounds has been very enjoyable. Everyone is in it together, so it is important to support one another.”
That support is possibly more important this year in light of the circumstances in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Homan and Simoncic admit the pandemic has led to changes in their education.
“The pandemic has caused a great deal of our education to become virtual compared to pre-pandemic classes,” Homan said. “We have had alterations to our white coat ceremony and have missed out on other social events, but these are small prices to pay to make sure we are doing our part to protect the community at large.
“The pandemic itself has been a motivating factor to get things back to normal for me — it has not strengthened my desire to become a physician as much as it has made me appreciate the physicians we have and the opportunities we had pre-pandemic. I look forward to the day where I will have the opportunity to actually see my patients' faces and shake their hands.”
The COVID-19 has further instilled in Simoncic the importance of the medical field. He added the pandemic has further pushed him to pursue rural medicine, due to the health care disparities in rural areas.
While they are uncertain of where their journeys may ultimately lead them to practice medicine, both are certain they will stay in touch.
“We are rounding off our first week of real classes following last week's orientation. It is great getting to talk about actual patient cases in our PBL course, while developing our skills to begin thinking like a physician,” Homan said. “We are covering a lot of basic science as well during this first block (eight weeks long) to lay the groundwork for blocks to come.
“I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity and know Jayce feels the same,” he continued. “We have a lot of hard work ahead, but I couldn't imagine pursuing any other career, and I'm fortunate to have a lifelong friend by my side.”