Healing Soul and Body

Pursuing a career in emergency medicine, Matt Fillingame applies the spiritual and philosophical principles he learned at King’s to healing the sick.

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If someone had told Matthew Fillingame (Business ’09) when he graduated from King’s that by 2020, he would be three months from finishing medical school, he would have laughed. But in retrospect, the journey from May 2009 to today makes perfect sense—and illustrates God’s grace at work in his life. Even though he says the path has been a bit crazy, “The grace that we received through it is unbelievable.”

Fillingame grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., before moving to New York to attend King’s where he was a member of the House of Bonhoeffer and served as Student Body President during his senior year. His high school girlfriend, Laurie Mizioch (PPE ’09), also attended King’s and the two married in 2007, the summer before their junior year.

Laurie suffers from a chronic condition, and after they got married, Fillingame found himself at the hospital with her frequently. “These visits inspired me to learn more about the medical field. I was never sure what I wanted to do as a career, even while at King’s,” he says. But from those visits, he became interested in the medical field. He did his senior thesis on medical tourism and started to think that medicine might be a great fit for him. He hoped to apply the spiritual and philosophical principles he learned at King’s to an embodied vocation of healing the sick.

Towards the end of senior year, he mentioned the idea of medical school to Laurie. She was on board, but the options they were considering didn’t include insurance, and that was a non-negotiable for them. After graduation, they moved to California so that Laurie could pursue a master’s degree. Fillingame spent the years of Laurie’s graduate studies working part-time at Apple and taking philosophy classes at Biola. Eventually they moved back to New York, where Fillingame took a job in digital advertising—with excellent benefits. The dream of med school would have to wait a little longer.

Unbeknownst to them, the Fillingames were about to start another journey of discernment. Both Matt and Laurie grew up Protestant and had deep personal faith in Jesus Christ. They were involved in leadership at their local church (Trinity Grace), and Fillingame attended Protestant seminary briefly. But he says he never really resonated with Protestantism. So a few years after graduation, as Fillingame was still working to find a way to go to medical school, he and Laurie began to investigate their own beliefs.

They took this investigation seriously, going so far as to travel to Kolkata, India to work with nuns at Mother Teresa’s home for the dying and destitute. It was their first exposure to Catholicism. They attended Mass in the morning and daily Adoration with the nuns at night. His pastor recalled how the experience changed Fillingame: “After that, Matt was so much more excited about entering the medical field, and about his faith in general.”

The experience in India sent the Fillingames on a two-year exploration of their own Protestant tradition alongside Catholic theology and practice. Eventually, after combing through countless books, having many earnest conversations, and spending hours in prayer, they spoke to Pastor Gary about their sense that God was calling them to join the Catholic Church. To their surprise, he replied, “Me too.” They ended up joining the Church at Easter 2016 alongside Gary.

“I always felt this longing for an embodied spirituality,” Fillingame explained. “Where the grace that God gives us works through and is made manifest in the tangible things we do—candles, kneeling, incense, genuflecting, sign of the Cross, where grace really permeates nature and nature becomes capable of pointing us to grace.”

At the same time, things were finally falling into place for Fillingame to go to medical school. Laurie got a job that provided the needed medical insurance and he enrolled in a pre-med, post-baccalaureate program at The City College of New York. He was later accepted to Cooper Medical School of Rowan University where he decided to specialize in emergency medicine. Despite being perceived as an awful job for anyone with a family, within the medical community, emergency medicine is actually considered one of the better jobs for work-life balance, since the hours are fixed and there is no patient management outside of those fixed shifts.

That kind of consistency was going to be important, because in the middle of medical school Matt and Laurie found out they were expecting their first son—right before Third Block, a major medical school test. “That time was really hard,” he says, “but we received so much grace through it.” Even though following the Catholic teaching on contraception and openness to life led to some challenging times, the couple found that God was preparing incredible blessings for them. “People are always saying, “I don’t know how you do med school and have kids,” he says, “but it’s not like that at all—kids are a lot of work, but they expose you to so much grace and so much of God.”

Now, the couple has two sons, Milo and Damian. Fillingame is poised to graduate in May 2020 and start a residency in June. “As I learn more and more about what being a doctor is, King’s students are very well prepared for it,” he says. Specifically, a King’s education prepares students for the art of medicine by teaching them skills like logical thinking and relating to many different kinds of people.

Looking into the long-term, Fillingame is also considering pursuing medical ethics, inspired by an experience during med school where he witnessed board members of the New Jersey Medical Association argue for assisted suicide. Of all the professionals in the room, no one seemed to understand that assisting in suicide would put doctors in a position of becoming the active cause of someone’s death. Fillingame was the only one who spoke out against it. Only later did Fillingame’s advisor tell him that he had changed his mind on the issue.

The journey from King’s to a vocation as a husband and father and a career in medicine has been a winding one. But throughout, Fillingame has sensed God at work. “Everywhere, I’ve seen grace perfecting nature,” he says—in his own career discernment, in his marriage, in his family. “You can honor God in any vocational job, but there’s something very tangible about medicine. Not only do I get to provide for my family, but I also get to participate in providing a corporal work of mercy through my day to day work.”

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