Rutgers graduate with cerebral palsy working to become physician's assistant
A defining moment in one’s life is typically an event that helps them confirm they took the right path in life. For one Rutgers alumnus, his defining moment came in the form of a 9-year-old boy and his crying mother.
Matthew Valentine, a recent School of Arts and Sciences graduate, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was an infant, and is now studying to become a physician's assistant at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“Once a month, they have a cerebral palsy clinic and I just happened to be shadowing her that day. Half way through this PA examining this nine-year-old boy, his mom stopped her and said to me ‘Hold on a second, do you have cerebral palsy?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I do’, and at that point the mom broke down crying and said I give her hope for her son,” Valentine said.
Cerebral palsy is considered a neurological disorder, caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development, that primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination.
Valentine's type of cerebral palsy affects the muscles and nerve endings in his legs.
"They’re always sending nerve signals to my legs telling them to be contracted and be tight,” he said.
Valentine refused to let his disability stop him, and decided to attend Rutgers University and went on to attend physician assistant school.
Valentine said his defining moment happened when he shadowed a physician assistant (PA) while in preparation for applying to school for the position.
Valentine, who is currently studying at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, said he loved attending Rutgers, but also appreciated the access to the Office of Disability Services that the University had to offer him.
“In terms of my disability, the services offered by the Office of Disability (Services) were amazing, so I guess that swayed me a little bit. They were just so accommodating in every aspect,” Valentine said.
Approximately 6 to 7 percent of applicants get into Physician Assistant school on the first application as he did, Valentine said. He credits the University with helping him achieve the goal of getting in.
“First of all, the Rutgers name carries so much weight behind it. I was able to have access to so many things and do so many things that I don’t think I would’ve been able to do at a small university,” he said.
Valentine started a student organization called the Allied Health Professions Club in his first year at Rutgers for students who may not want to be doctors, but who want to go into the medicine field in positions such as physician assistants or physical therapists.
The club opened up a lot of doors for him, he said.
"It allowed me to network and at a smaller university, I don’t think that would’ve been as easy to do or at least I wouldn’t have had the clout to reach out to speakers at various hospitals and ask them to come talk to my club," Valentine said.
He said the networking helped him while applying to schools as well. Valentine said he expects to graduate as a physician assistant in August of 2018.
“I can bring something to the table (as a physician assistant) that so many people cannot," he said. "I can bring empathy, I can bring the patient perspective. I don’t think my cerebral palsy hinders me in any way, I think it helps me.”
Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.