By Meghan McCarthy
Since childhood, Matt Van Dongen, MD, has approached life as a climb. Whether adventuring through backyard woods or navigating patient care as a physician, he depends on his passion and curiosity.
He takes that perspective into his current role, as Penn Memory Center (PMC) clinical fellow.
Dr. Van Dongen grew up in rural West Virginia, with nature as his playground.
“There wasn’t a lot going on,” he said. “I kept myself busy because we lived right up against the woods. I think I naturally climbed onto whatever I could as I kid.”
He continued his climb, out of those West Virginia woods and through Eastern Virginia Medical School, where his interest in geriatrics developed. From there, the climb took him through an internal medicine residency at UNC Chapel Hill and a fellowship in geriatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.
One lesson learned from his outdoor adventures has been to take the time to fully appreciate surroundings. As a clinician, he has learned to approach patients with a genuine interest in getting to know them as individuals.
“What I enjoy most is thinking about the person as a whole,” said Dr. Van Dongen. “I approach patients based on what is most important to them, and always consider how to assist them from a medical standpoint that’s in line with that.”
And although Dr. Van Dongen educates his patients, he also enjoys learning from them.
“I just love talking to older adults,” said Dr. Van Dongen. “Whether it’s experiences of growing up, or their current life, I’ve heard so many amazing stories. My job is just getting to know people.”
During his geriatrics fellowship, Dr. Van Dongen felt called for further specialization in cognitive neurology, which led to the PMC clinical fellowship.
At PMC, he is most looking forward to tapping into multidisciplinary collaboration.
“As someone whose background is in internal medicine, I’m excited to be a part of clinical care that incorporates the different perspectives of neurology, geriatrics, and psychiatry in addressing the same problem,” said Dr. Van Dongen.
Dr. Van Dongen also has an interest in developing medical education and is completing a Measey Medical Education fellowship in addition to his PMC fellowship.
Under the mentorship of Rachel Miller, MD, a geriatrician at Penn, this fellowship entails intensive medical education coursework and an educational project. Dr. Van Dongen will structure his project around developing teaching material on topics of dementia.
“In the field of medicine, there is kind of an expectation that to some degree, a physician who goes to training should then be involved in training,” said Dr. Van Dongen. “This is something I’ve fully embraced and gives me a lot of gratification.”