The Road (and Waters) Less Travelled

Lars Matkin's Journey to Geisel

  • Lars at the helm of his father's research vessel, the Natoa.Lars at the helm of his father's research vessel, the Natoa.
  • Working onboard the Agave fishing ship, with 60,000 lbs of pink salmon.Working onboard the Agave fishing ship, with 60,000 lbs of pink salmon.
  • Lars and his father with a spiny rockfish that came up in the net.Lars and his father with a spiny rockfish that came up in the net.
  • Young Lars and one of his Young Lars and one of his "earliest fish".

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Chasing killer whales, suturing wounds in Central America, and competing for swimming national titles. Just a normal path to medical school….if your name is Lars Matkin.

Matkin, a first-year student at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, spent his childhood in the fjords of Alaska and bays of Mexico alongside his marine biologist parents, as they studied killer and humpback whales.

His mother, Olga VonZiegesar, opened a medical clinic in Nicaragua one summer. It was Matkin’s first encounter with medicine and it would leave a deep impression on the teenager. He delivered vitamins to patients, assisted with sutures, and saw up close the serious conditions facing the impoverished community each day.

Matkin’s experience at the Las Pampas Clinic in Nicaragua, and later in Honduras helping provide advanced medical care to patients through the Cape CARES organization, affirmed his passion for global health.

“I did more than shadowing (in Honduras) and I realized this is what I want to do. I really enjoy medicine, helping people, and working with my hands,” he says, pointing out that the health care disparities faced by many of his fellow Alaskans run parallel to those of the Nicaraguans and Hondurans he came to know. “In Alaska, very few people go to the hospital.”

Matkin discovered his love for emergency medicine in Alaska. He recalls when, at age 17, he was working on a commercial fishing boat, 24 hours from the nearest medical center. A fisherman in a nearby vessel injured his hand in a hydraulic roller and radioed for help. Matkin and his crew answered the call.

“His hand was smashed and he was in shock. We bandaged him and stopped the bleeding,” says Matkin. He and his shipmates stabilized the injured man and rushed him to the nearest village, Chanega, for further medical treatment.

That experience and others helped him recognize that the focus and quick decision-making needed with emergency care matched his make-up and skills.

“Emergency medicine attracts me the most. It really fits my personality. It’s exactly the direction I imagine I’ll go,” he says.

Matkin’s athleticism and drive also surfaced as a top swimmer in high school, leading to his recruitment to Kenyon College’s legendary Men’s Swimming and Diving program. Matkin earned his first title as a member of the Kenyon 200-yard medley relay at the 2012 NCAA Division III Championship. His academic and athletic achievements at Kenyon were recognized when he received the prestigious NCAA postgraduate scholarship. After graduating in 2012 from Kenyon with a degree in biochemistry, and building his first home — an 800-square-foot spruce and birch plank Alaskan abode — by hand last summer, he spent a year working as a cancer researcher at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, prior to his matriculation to Geisel.

Having seen how his stepmother, Eva Saulitis, has battled through breast cancer, Matkin says his time at the Cleveland Clinic conducting cancer research confirmed his desire to put his academic training to work for the greater good.

His eclectic life experiences — chasing whales on the high seas as a child, helping the underserved in Nicaragua, working as a crewman on the Agave fishing vessel, and searching for cancer discoveries — collectively led him to Hanover, NH, and the Geisel School of Medicine.

“It wasn’t an epiphany, but I was fortunate,” says Matkin, explaining how the assorted experiences helped guide him to Geisel. “For me, recognizing that Geisel could give me the ability to go anywhere, from working overseas to hiking in the mountains after class, it’s very much where I want to be.”

--By Denise Henry

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