Valentine Matongoh

“I realized [Methodist University ] is the place I wanted to be — I felt comfortable being here.”

When Valentine Matongoh walks across the stage as a Physician Assistant Studies graduate this weekend – like many other Methodist University graduates – it will be a triumphant moment for her and her family.

But the special day may have never arrived if Matongoh’s family didn’t receive a little luck along the way.

Matongoh spent much of her childhood more than 7,500 miles away in Kisii, Kenya, a place she looks back on with many fond memories. However, she also recognizes it had its hurdles.

“Where I’m from, there’s not a lot of health care resources for people,” she added. “For example, many women give birth at home with assistance from their mother and friends. There’s also not a lot of resources for psychiatric care.”

Valentine and her fatherMatongoh experienced the issues firsthand when her grandmother suffered from gall bladder issues in Kenya.

“We tried taking her to hospitals and it was expensive. When we realized she needed a specialist, we held fundraiser after fundraiser,” Matongoh said. “Then, when we needed to travel internationally to see other specialists, we had to raise more money to travel. It was the beginning of a realization that I wanted health care to be more accessible to people.”

In 2010, Matongoh and her family’s lives instantly changed when her father, a certified nursing assistant at the time, received a green card through the United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa Program – an annual process that randomly selects up to 50,000 immigrants to permanently live and work in the country. The chances of her father’s application would be selected was anywhere from 1.3 to four percent.

The program allowed the immediate family of Matongoh’s father to move to the U.S. They decided to start their new chapter in Broomfield, Colorado.

“When I got to Colorado in November, I was wearing flip flops. No one told me I had to wear snow boots so I was slipping everywhere,” Matongoh added. “Once, I even tried to knock on a random neighbor’s door to ask the kid there to play, but my father had to explain to me that it doesn’t work like that [in the U.S.]. The parents need to know each other first. It was a culture shock for sure.”

Valentine Matongoh and health sciences studentsMatongoh’s passion for health care quickly grew during her middle and high school years when she spent some of her time volunteering at a nursing home where her mother worked.

Eventually, Matongoh followed in her father’s footsteps by earning a certified nursing assistant license. Soon after, Matongoh decided to stay close to home while earning a Microbiology bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“I loved Microbiology, but after three years, I realized that I wasn’t someone who wanted to sit at a desk and do chemistry all day,” she said. “That’s when I started to think more about my future and when I discovered the Physician Assistant profession, I realized that’s what I was meant to do.”

Matongoh started looking at some of the top PA programs across the country and was immediately drawn to Methodist University’s Physician Assistant program for its state-of-the-art cadaver lab. Her passion for MU grew tenfold after a visit to the Fayetteville campus.

“I had other interviews for PA school where I was nervous and sweating. However, that was nothing like my interview experience at Methodist University,” said Matongoh. “When I sat down with Dr. Susan Greer Fisher, I specifically remember her asking me what I cared about. When I mentioned social injustice, she mentioned she loved that answer. That’s when I realized this is the place I wanted to be – I felt comfortable being here.”

Suffice to say, Matongoh’s choice of Methodist University was an easy one. Through the PA program, Matongoh completed 3.5 semesters of classroom instruction before receiving her white coat and starting 3.5 semesters of clinical work at various medical centers and doctor’s offices within a 75-mile radius of the school.

Matongoh said, “I truly learned how to be flexible. Picking up to go to a new place every five weeks for clinicals is difficult so being able to meet new people and embrace the experience was important. It taught me that you can’t prepare for everything.”

Valentine MatongohDuring Methodist University’s Winter Commencement on Dec. 10, Matongoh’s hard work and perseverance will come to fruition as she earns her Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies. It’s only fitting Matongoh’s entire immediate family will be in attendance, as her father – the man who received a green card to bring the Matongoh family from Kenya to the United States – will perform the hooding duties right before his daughter receives her diploma.

“I’m proud of myself because this was not easy. A lot of tears and late nights were put into this,” Valentine Matongoh said. “But this is truly about the people that supported me through it all – my family, my partner, and the Methodist University faculty who really took the time to work with me when I struggled. They were proactive in identifying areas that I needed help in before I even could. They were truly there for me and that’s what I loved about Methodist University’s PA program.”

Although Matongoh is still trying to figure out what the next chapter of her story will bring, she does want to focus on bringing health care resources to people that need them most while helping the health care field focus more on diversity. MU’s faculty is certain a bright future awaits Matongoh.

“Valentine is an exceptional student and human,” said Fisher, the interim director of the MU Physician Assistant program. “Not only is she bright, hardworking, and diligent, but she is also very kind and caring. She is going to make an excellent physician assistant that is going to make a positive impact on the lives of many people. There is no limit to what she is capable of.”