The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has welcomed just seven classes to the college, with the fourth class set to graduate on May 6. But the school is about to hit another milestone: Some of its first alumni are about to finish residency and move into practice.

The charter class graduated in 2014. All of them set off for residencies that ranged from three to seven years. Those in three-year programs will finish this summer.

Chris Vieau is among those charter class members set to switch from resident physician to attending physician when he completes his residency in family medicine at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Cynda Johnson, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, invited Vieau to return to the medical school for the Class of 2017’s graduation on May 6 as its first alumni speaker.

“We feel it is vital for our alumni to remain connected with our medical school. Having one speak at graduation is just one way we hope to keep them engaged,” Johnson said. “Chris was a perfect fit this year. He was an excellent student and has been an advocate for us in residency. Some younger alumni who went to Carolinas Medical Center after him shared with me that attending physicians spoke highly of his performance and expected great things of them as well because of his example.”

Vieau said he was “shocked and humbled” to be invited as a guest speaker, but he hopes his experience will assure the new graduates they are ready for the next step.

“The education they received at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is going to prepare them and serve them extremely well for whatever residency they go into,” Vieau said. “The learning curve when you first start residency is really steep and you are going to learn a lot about medicine and a lot about yourself after you are put in situations you’ve never been in before.”

As the alumni base of the college grows and more begin to move into practice in the coming years, Vieau hopes he and other alumni can begin to give back more to the school.

“I don’t think there’s another medical school that has a faculty and community as open and amenable and accessible as the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine,” Vieau said. “It would be great if the alumni could mirror that in the ways we give back to the school, help get people interested in the school, and support students from other classes through medical school, residency, and beyond.”

The path to becoming a practicing physician is a long one. First, students must complete an undergraduate degree. Some do graduate work before coming to medical school. After they receive an M.D., they go onto a residency program that spans three to seven years.

Some also continue onto fellowships for subspecialties that range in length from one to three years. At its shortest, the educational path takes about 11 years; at the longer range, education can take up to or even more than 18 years.

“I think everything is a step up. From medical school into residency – you’ve finally become the thing that you’ve wanted to be, for some people their whole life. Now, about to graduate from residency, I feel like I’m really ready for prime time, so to speak,” Vieau said. “I know it will have its own set of learning curves, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Vieau will join Union Family Practice in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, in their rural track.

Beyond words of advice for the new graduates, Vieau also hopes to convey gratitude for those who helped him and the other alumni and current students.

“For the faculty and staff at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, the clinical faculty, and the community, I don’t think we, as alumni, can express enough gratitude for what they did for us,” Vieau said. “Now that some of us are getting out, just to be able to show that gratitude and give back is really important.”

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine graduation will be May 6, in Roanoke, Virginia. More information about the ceremony is available on the medical school’s website.

Vieau received his undergraduate degree from Manhattan College.

Share this story