A Couples Match at their Top Choice Means these International Medical Grads are Heading to Alabama

Married couple Vanessa and Josh Hamby will start their Family Medicine residency at the University of Alabama this July. The program is a perfect fit for Hambys, who hope to train and practice in rural, underserved areas.

Married couple Vanessa and Josh Hamby
Josh Hamby, MD'18 (left) and Vanessa Hamby, MD '18 (right) celebrate their residency match on March 16, 2018

It’s been a whirlwind four years for graduating medical students Vanessa and Josh Hamby. After meeting during their first semester at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC)—she originally from Hamilton, Ontario and he from Wartburg, Tennessee—the aspiring physicians were engaged and planning a wedding by the start of their fifth semester. In the midst of coursework and studying for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, Vanessa and Josh had their dream wedding and said “I do” before setting off to the United Kingdom to complete their clinical rotations.

Now, their journey continues in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Vanessa and Josh couples matched into their top choice Family Medicine residency program at the University of Alabama.

“We are so thrilled,” said Vanessa. “Becoming doctors has been a dream and we are grateful to begin our careers at such an incredible program.”

A Chance Encounter in Sint Maarten

Vanessa and Josh grew up 700 miles away from one another but had similar childhoods. Raised in small rural towns, they shared the same values and each had a sibling in the medical field. Vanessa’s sister, a family physician 13 years her senior, created a natural pull towards healthcare. Josh had one sister in nursing and another in veterinary medicine, and applied to medical school while scribing at a small urgent care clinic.

“I got the call from AUC just as I was getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail,” he recalls. “It felt great to get that acceptance letter and to know that I would finally have the chance to go to medical school.”

Vanessa and Josh met during their first semester at AUC and instantaneously clicked. They were both adventurous, outdoorsy, and had similar views about the kind of physician they wanted to be.

“I’ve always wanted to go into family medicine, it’s the absolute best choice,” said Vanessa. “Family physicians get to work with people of all ages—from prenatal care to the elderly—and it’s a field where you blend so many different skills and aspects of medicine. Everyone thinks you need to be in a niche part of healthcare these days but I’d rather be in a field that encompasses a little bit of everything.”

It’s not just the variety that attracts Vanessa and Josh to family medicine. Each feels a responsibility to fill critically needed primary care positions in the United States and Canada. In the US, for example, there is a projected shortfall of up to 43,100 primary care physicians by 2030 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Coming from a small town, I’ve seen how important physicians are in rural communities,” said Josh. “When I was a scribe, the doctor I worked with knew everything about his patients—their families, their work, their hobbies. He created real and trusting relationships that allowed patients to open up; I love that community feel in family care.”

AUC students Josh and Vanessa
Josh and Vanessa pose for a photo moments after he proposed while on a hike in Sint Maarten

Entering the Match—What the Hambys Looked for in a Residency Program

When researching residency programs, Vanessa and Josh made the decision to look only at programs in rural, underserved areas—mostly in the Midwest or South. They also decided to enter the National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP) as a couple in order to help their chances of landing a residency in the same program or within the same geographic area.

“It’s a stressful process that comes with a lot of risks,” said Vanessa. “You have to be on the same page about every decision and be realistic about the different scenarios that can play out for you and your partner.”

Josh applied to both Family Medicine and Internal Medicine residency programs while Vanessa applied only to Family Medicine. For every Internal Medicine program that Josh applied to, Vanessa applied to a Family Medicine position at that same hospital or health center. Topping their list was the University of Alabama.

“We felt drawn to the University of Alabama Family Medicine program for several reasons,” said Vanessa. “It offers a balance of training, international opportunities and fellowships, and it’s unrivaled by other specialties—which allows us to grow in each rotation rather than compete with others. It also doesn’t hurt that the University of Alabama is a large state school with lots of spirit and pride!”

The residency program also met distinct criteria for the Hambys. For Vanessa, who wants to be a well-rounded family physician, it offers a versatile education without leaning too heavily on one specialty. For Josh, who is interested in emergency medicine and urgent care, there are fellowships available to further his training. The program also champions international health opportunities which both physicians value.  

“Everything about it felt like the right fit,” said Josh. “Tuscaloosa reminds us of the rural small towns that we grew up in and it’s important that we train in an area that reflects the type of medicine we want to practice.”

When their match came in from the University of Alabama’s Family Medicine residency program on Friday, March 16, the Hambys were ecstatic. In a post on Instagram, the couple is all smiles with Vanessa sporting a University of Alabama t-shirt. On July 1, they will join 46 other residents in Tuscaloosa to begin the next phase of their careers as physicians.

How International Experiences Helped the Hambys Stand Out

When reflecting on their residency interviews, Vanessa and Josh were vocal about one experience in particular that gave them a leg up: doing their core clinical rotations in the United Kingdom.

During their third year of medical school, the Hambys took advantage of AUC’s UK clinical experience and signed up for clinical rotations at Stepping Hill Hospital outside of Manchester. They spent 11 months at the hospital, gaining clinical exposure in internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and pediatrics. It was an opportunity that they say gave them incredible hands-on experience, a lot of individualized attention, and a strong foundation in physical exams.

“Everyone wanted to know about my UK rotations,” said Vanessa. “It helped my application stand out and was a great conversation starter during interviews. It was such a good experience and we’re so glad that we did it.” 

Josh and Vanessa at clinical rotations
Josh (left) and Vanessa (right) while on clinical rotations at Stepping Hill Hospital outside of Manchester, UK