On Match Day, March 18, Shantelle Griffith walked out onto the field at SRP Park during the ceremony with her husband, Kenny, and their two children, dressed as Pixar’s first family of superheroes, The Incredibles.
The suits were a perfect symbol, not only for Griffith, but also for the entire Class of 2022 from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. A quote by Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl, from the movie rings true for Griffith and her classmates: “You have more power than you realize. Don’t think, and don’t worry. If the time comes, you’ll know what to do. It’s in your blood.”Griffith, who will receive her Doctor of Medicine degree this week from MCG, has always known she wanted to go into medicine because she has always had the desire and passion to help people.
“I wanted to do something that I enjoyed, and science was that something,” Griffith said. “I also wanted to have the aspect of helping people and being there for them when they’re at their most vulnerable. I want to try to bring some joy to someone’s life, even when it seems too difficult.”
When it came time to look at med school, Griffith – who earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2015 and her Master of Science in Medical Sciences in Biology in 2018 from Georgia State University – wanted to go somewhere renowned not only for excellent medical education but also for having a diverse and inclusive environment. It was easy to see MCG was where she wanted to be.
“MCG is known for their inclusive environment and the great education that you get,” Griffith said. “When I was telling the physicians I worked with as a scribe that I had an interview at MCG, they all said, ‘They make great doctors.’ ‘That’s awesome.’ ‘That’s amazing.’ It just made me feel good about going to this program, and then I attended the Igniting the Dream conference that they hold over the summer, and it just seemed like a cohesive family. It was just very welcoming, and I could see myself here every day.
“I think the support that I have here has been amazing,” Griffith continued. “No matter how farfetched my dream was, no matter how unlikely things may have seemed at times, no matter how hard everything was, I always felt that between the faculty, my classmates and then my village at home, I always felt supported and I always felt that I could succeed. Whenever I doubted myself, there has always been someone there to say, ‘No, you can do it.’ The people and this environment that was cultivated, it has just been a blessing, and that’s what makes MCG so unique. Yes, the buildings are new and nice. The campus is nice, but if the people inside those aren’t nice, then it kind of defeats the purpose and I feel like MCG has really good, awesome people.”
While at MCG, Griffith has excelled and reveled in the challenges of working toward earning her doctorate, but like so many over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic caused some obstacles for her and her classmates to overcome.
For the first time in MCG history, classes had to be split into smaller groups for instruction, but in hindsight that may have enabled the medical students to become even closer.
“During COVID I was supposed to be doing a dedicated study for Step One. It’s a really important test that can determine what kind of specialist you can be,” Griffith said.
“It comes with a lot of pressure, but because of COVID, my two kids were at home the whole quarantine, so I didn’t get my dedicated study times all the time. I had to study around the extra attention they needed. It was a big struggle trying to balance taking care of them and studying, but looking back I’m really proud of myself and I showed myself how strong I could be. COVID also taught us all how to go with the flow better. Going from in person to online and back to in person wasn’t really that much of a hassle; it was really more so having to learn to better balance home life with work and studying.”
Her desire to help people led Griffith to want to go into one of the most competitive subspecialties: dermatology. And on Match Day, she found out she had matched to her No. 1 choice, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Griffith has dreamed of becoming a doctor since she was young. Once she graduates from MCG, she will be one step closer to becoming a dermatologist.
“It was a dream come true on Match Day because dermatology is what most interests me,” Griffith said. “I like the aspect of knowing a lot about a specialized topic, and dermatology gives you a unique aspect in that you can help patients not just with their physical ailments but also psychologically.
“If someone has acne or psoriasis or something that’s not understood well by the general public, you can become self-conscious and not live to your full potential. Being a dermatologist gives me a way to treat the whole patient. Sometimes you just need someone there to kind of hold your hand while you’re going through it, and that’s a unique relationship that we can have with our patients.”
Matching with her first choice is even more impressive considering the statistics in Griffith’s chosen profession of dermatology. In 2019, there were just 309 Black female dermatologists listed in the United States, making up 2.86% of all dermatologists according to a story by the Augusta Chronicle.
On top of matching with her first choice, Griffith will be staying close to her home of Acworth, Georgia, for her first year, interning at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta before spending the following three years in Pennsylvania.
Being able to have her family beside her – both literally on Match Day and figuratively during her education – has meant the world to Griffith.“I am so lucky and grateful to have my family behind me. I do not take anything that they have done for me for granted because I could not have gotten this far without them,” Griffith said. “I don’t have enough words to say how happy and how grateful I am. I just want to thank them for being there for me. Thank you for letting me be here.”
Augusta University’s Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies will be held Thursday, May 12 and Friday, May 13. Thursday’s ceremony will honor graduate students, and Friday’s ceremonies will honor undergraduate students. Watch the events via livestream.