Kory Cablay spent most of his life near his hometown in the Costa Mesa area of California. Even when it was time for college, Cablay decided to attend Chapman University, just a 20-minute drive from home, to study biochemistry and molecular biology.

After graduation, he took a job close to home. “My whole life had been within a 30-mile radius of where I grew up,” Cablay said.

When he decided to apply to medical school, he cast a wide net. “I applied to a ton of schools, like 89,” Cablay said with a laugh. It paid off. Cablay had multiple acceptances, but chose to make it a big move, traveling more than 2,400 miles across the country to join the Class of 2022 at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke, Virginia.

His current dream to become a doctor is being realized after fits and starts to pursue the opportunity. As a child, he used to watch a show about surgeries. “My mom said I would just sit there and watch trauma shows, which is kind of weird as a kid,” Cablay said.

He was exposed to medicine again as a patient. He had some injuries that required orthopedic consultation and also had eight concussions over his athletic career as a football player. “I played in high school and the start of college. I got my eighth concussion my freshman year and decided to stop playing,” Cablay said. “It was another way I was exposed to health care, though, and I’m still a participant in some research studies because of those injuries.”

Through his family, he also interacted with the health care system. His older brother was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, or AVM. The condition can cause headaches, seizures, or bleeding in the brain. Thankfully, his brother’s condition is managed. In addition, his dad has had multiple stents placed in his heart. “Through interactions with their physicians, I saw both good and bad, particularly regarding communication with patients,” Cablay said.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Cablay took a few years to figure out what he wanted to do, working in the medical device industry first. “I didn’t love what I was doing. So, I looked to my faith and God to figure out what to do. I knew that I liked science. I knew that I enjoy interacting with people and with children especially. I wasn’t sure if I could get into medical school, but felt it would marry those interests together,” Cablay said.

Cablay is now in the thick of the demands of medical school. “Sometimes it can feel like a dump truck of information and you have a little cup to try to sort out the diamonds,” Cablay described. “But, it is a real privilege to be here and I try to remind myself of that. The fact that me and my classmates are here means something.”

Just a half year into medical school, the White Coat Ceremony and the unique curriculum to prepare students for the event is especially meaningful for Cablay. “Being a doctor gives you privilege and honor, but also a great responsibility. Hearing experienced physicians talk about the other side of medicine – what it is like to exam someone and question them about things they may not share with anyone else – was very helpful for me.”

Now pursuing a career of service to others, Cablay already demonstrated his commitment to giving back. He went on medical missions to Haiti three times and to Houston to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. “I don’t want people to think I share that as a badge of honor, but I don’t think you can use your gifts as a person in a way that’s more fulfilling than serving another person," he said. "That’s what we as students get to do here in our community.”

Cablay hopes he and his classmates can stay focused on the spirit of service throughout medical school and their careers. “It may be hard because we will feel like another cog in the machine. We will need to find a way to get centered and think in terms of goodness for our patients,” he said.

As a first-year medical student, Cablay has not committed to a particular medical specialty yet, but he has an idea of a few possible pursuits, including oncology, orthopaedics, and cardiology. “All doors are open, but I definitely want to work with kids. Kids can have a resilience towards life that is unparalleled.”

Cablay is the first recipient of the new VTC Diversity Excellence in Medicine Scholarship. The scholarship was created by Frank and Jennifer Clark. Frank Clark is a general adult psychiatrist at Greenville Health System and clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine as well as a member of the VTCSOM Dean’s Council on Advancement and a former faculty member at VTCSOM.

“You see that VTCSOM gets 4,000 applications for just 42 spots,” Cablay said. “I think a lot about, why me? Why did I get chosen over anybody else? I’m not sure I’ll ever know that answer. But, it adds to the privilege and honor of being here.”

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