Overcoming obstacles

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Medical student Melissa Montoya has a special empathy for unusually challenged patients. Born with only one hand, she has surmounted many challenges with the support of innovative approaches created by faculty in UNT Health Science Center’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

In utero, Montoya’s umbilical cord was so tightly wrapped around her left wrist that her hand failed to develop properly. When she was 3, surgeons used bone from her foot to improve grip strength in her partial thumb and little finger.

Her doctors’ care and concern influenced her decision to become a physician.

“The treatment I got from the follow-up appointments was very touching, and something I always remembered,” she said. “Since then, I’ve always been motivated to touch people’s lives in that way.”

Montoya, a second-year TCOM student, plans to practice medicine near the Texas-Mexico border, and that’s what led her to the Rural Osteopathic Medical Education of Texas program, or ROME.

“There are a lot of overlapping similarities between border health and rural medicine,” she said.

She praised ROME’s one-on-one training philosophy, singling out John Bowling, DO, Assistant Dean of Rural Medical Education, and A. Clifton Cage, DO, Associate Professor of Medical Education.

“They want to teach us to be well-rounded physicians,” Montoya said.

Dr. Bowling and Dr. Cage went the extra mile to ensure that Montoya gained the skills to perform a colonoscopy, sutures and other medical procedures that generally require two hands.

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“For sutures, Dr. Bowling sat down with me and said, ‘OK, you can’t move the needle this way, so you’re going to have to grip it this way,’” she said.

Montoya acknowledged that some patients may not initially feel comfortable being treated by a physically challenged person, so she’s polishing a special quality.

“I have to be twice as confident,” she said. “Patients are very intuitive, and if I’m nervous, they’ll be nervous.”

Dr. Bowling said Montoya is an exemplary student who never asks for accommodations, but seeks ways she can adapt to meet requirements.

“Adaptability is a rural professional competency we stress with all our Rural Scholars students,” he said. “Melissa truly exemplifies this trait.”

Dr. Cage agreed and said she will make a fine osteopathic physician.

“Melissa’s motivation has reduced all barriers and challenges presented to her during her training,” he said.

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