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Arnold School of Public Health

Public health graduate heads to medical school to empower others to take control of their health

December 9, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Matthew Telfer has first-hand experience with how nutrition and physical activity impact health. Growing up, the Lexington, Kentucky native loved playing sports but struggled with asthma.

“After seeing an allergist who alerted me to different foods – chicken, chocolate and carrots – that were making me sick, I was able to improve my health dramatically,” he says. “I want to become a physician to help individuals improve their quality of life by empowering them to take control of their health.”

Telfer chose to attend UofSC after he was admitted into the South Carolina Honors College (No. 1 in the nation among public schools) and offered an Academic-Scholar Elite Award. He decided to study public health to better understand the preventive side of medicine and help his future patients reduce their risk of chronic disease.

During his 3.5 years at UofSC, Telfer has made the most of his time as an undergrad. With his asthma under control, he played on the university’s club tennis team, where he served as vice president during his junior year, and coached others as a Certified Tennis Professional. He also joined the medical fraternity, Phi Delta Epilson, forming close relationships with other students pursuing careers in medicine. 

As an intern with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Bureau of Public Health Preparedness, Telfer gained hands-on experience in the field during the second half of 2019. He assisted the Bureau’s infectious disease planner with a statewide risk assessment to determine which events (e.g., natural disasters, bioterrorism, infectious disease outbreaks) would pose the greatest threat to South Carolinians.

In his public health program, Telfer found a mentor in his advisor, clinical associate professor Kara Montgomery. “Dr. Montgomery has been very supportive throughout my years at UofSC and especially during the medical school application process,” Telfer says. “It was encouraging to hear her confidence in my application even when I had my doubts about it.”

Telfer also observed an alignment in their views on the importance of nutrition, which made Montgomery the perfect faculty member to direct his Honor’s thesis. With this project, which was also directed by Prevention Research Center program manager Ellen Wingard, the President’s and Dean’s List honoree is examining the relationship between stress and dietary habits in first-year students at UofSC.  

“I know that the transition to college can be a stressful time, and I think what we choose to eat has a significant impact on our ability to be productive in our daily activities and our health in the long-term,” Telfer says. “Yet nutrition can sometimes be overlooked.”

A December graduate completing his degree a semester early, Telfer has already been accepted into medical school. He is keeping an open mind about his future specialty but knows that he would like to build long-term relationships with his patients.

“The public health major is perfect for students interested in going into the healthcare sector,” Telfer says. “The Bachelor of Science degree was great because it gave me a balance between the lab sciences which were prerequisites for medical school and social sciences where I learned how to apply my knowledge about public health to the professional world.”

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