Justin Montague

// Aspire to Inspire
Seeing a black man in a white coat gave Justin the blueprint he needed to inspire others who look like himself.
Volume 01 Issue 06
March 17th, 2019

It’s funny - no matter how set you are on one path, things can always change in an instant. I saw that in high school, and I see it now just the same. I began to re-evaluate my path after traveling to Ecuador in the summer of 2018. My trip provided the opportunity to look at health through a completely different lens – a global one. This was something that I had never done before, but something that I gained so much from. Through this, I realized that there is a lot more to becoming a good clinician than simply getting to medical school as fast as possible. I recognized the importance of experience in shaping who I am.

Looking back –
Becoming a doctor was something I never pictured for myself. For a while, I couldn’t visualize myself as a doctor because I had never actually seen someone who looked like me rock the white coat with their medical degree hanging in their office. It just didn’t seem attainable. It didn’t feel possible. But this all changed with one injury. One appointment. One interaction.

High school football was officially in full swing in the summer of 2012 and I was ready to make the most out of my sophomore year. Football had already taken over my first year and I wanted to continue to work on my craft to punch my ticket into college.

However, my focused changed that summer. A minor knee strain, although only a small setback for my football aspirations, exposed me to something so much greater – the power of representation in medicine.

When I met my orthopedic physician, I was in awe. A black man in a white coat. Our interaction was brief, but from those few minutes, I gained the confidence I needed to move throughout this journey. My mind was set. My motivation was high. I was going to be a doctor.

In a follow-up appointment a month or so later, I made sure to let my physician know that I wanted to become a physician because he had shown me that it could be done by a black or brown person. He smiled and responded: “I hope you inspire others like yourself when you are a physician.” Wow… I never knew something so simple could be so impactful.

From that point on, I went to work. With academics on the front of my mind, I did everything I could to speak with doctors and expose myself to medicine. At the same time, my dream of playing football in college began to fade. Even though I loved football, my desire to be a physician was far greater. With that in mind, I decided to stop any recruitment and attempts to play football in college, focusing more on how to position myself for academic success. I was set on my path.

It’s funny - no matter how set you are on one path, things can always change in an instant. I saw that in high school, and I see it now just the same. I began to re-evaluate my path after traveling to Ecuador in the summer of 2018. My trip provided the opportunity to look at health through a completely different lens – a global one. This was something that I had never done before, but something that I gained so much from. Through this, I realized that there is a lot more to becoming a good clinician than simply getting to medical school as fast as possible. I recognized the importance of experience in shaping who I am.

This quote directly reflects that…

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

I definitely haven’t lost the dream of that young teenager inspired to become a physician and I haven’t lost my dream to inspire others. But along the way, I have also learned the importance of taking time for my own personal growth.

Ikechukwu: The first time we met, we both suited up and rocked Wazobia on the DJ set. You introduced me to your girl, I introduced you to mine, and the rest is history. You still remember that night?

Justin: No doubt man. That was a night to remember for sure. The entire place was jumpin’ all night and I have to say I'm grateful that Deb got me involved with Wazobia that year because, like you said, the rest is history.

Later on, I come to find out we both love basketball and love shooting the rock. The first time we both played together was during the 3 on 3 tournament at the FAC. We didn’t win, but we almost pulled an upset against the eventual champions.

This is definitely the moment where we found out how much each other HATES losing, especially in hoops. I feel like we were back on the court the next day getting shots up. From then on, it was like clockwork.

To be honest, we must have played hundreds of games together throughout our years at school. There were some very competitive battles, and you pushed me in so many ways to be creative with my shot selections because you knew my moves. We have the same style of play. I knew your turnaround fade, the pull-up, the drive to the right, ALL that haha. I even stole some moves from you, not going to lie! We hooped together damn near every single day, especially in the summer. I loved playing with you because that meant automatic dub, but I relished opportunities playing against you. Anything stand out to you at those times?

Man, we used to BATTLE when we played against each other because of how competitive we both are and I appreciated every minute of it. Because no matter the outcome, no matter how hard we fought, we’d dap up and run it back until we were completely gassed. I can’t even count the number of times you got me with that up and under move before I finally stopped falling for it haha. Any chance we got to be on the same team, it was over though. We always ran the little pick and roll action. Unstoppable.

The MUTUAL respect and intensity we both had on the court spilled to me watching you build your name on campus. You were heavily involved in a lot of activities and made an impact on that campus. That grind you have pushed me, and still pushes me to excellence. As your last semester is coming to an end, how are you feeling?

I feel blessed. I’ve been given incredible opportunities throughout my time at Loyola and I think I can finally say that Loyola has given me everything it possibly could. It has prepared me for the countless opportunities I hope to pursue in the near future and thereafter. Surprisingly, I don’t feel as nervous as I thought I would. Instead, I just feel ready. Ready for the next adventure, opportunity, experience, whatever it may be. I see your journey, the amazing work you’re doing with the mag and how you’re grinding over there on the west coast, and I'm excited to start a new journey myself.

Do you miss playing football? Are you still part of that world in some shape or fashion?

I miss it every single day. The opportunity to suit up and compete with your team is a feeling that can’t be replaced. It provided me with an escape from everything else in the world and the field was without a doubt the place where I was happiest. It was a tough decision not playing in college, but one that I do not regret. I took the lessons learned and applied them to my academics in college. I discovered new passions that I don’t think I would have found if I continued. Of course, the sport itself is still something I try to continue in some capacity, whether it's watching or playing intramurals. My team actually just won the chip this year. It’s a good way to go out for sure.

Now, on to your current career. What about seeing a black man in a white coat changed your life from football to a career in medicine?

Looking back on it, I think having a black physician boosted my confidence as a young student. It showed me that this profession was attainable and something that I should consider for myself in the future. In reflection, I definitely have a better understanding of how important representation, in all of its forms, is to younger people especially. As kids, we’re so malleable and impressionable that the presence of or lack of representation can influence how we view ourselves and our own future.

What is Ecuador like? What are the types of experiences you faced, good and bad? What did you learn?

Ecuador was absolutely beautiful from the culture to the landscape and everything in between. My experience through the organization Child Family Health International provided a unique opportunity to analyze urban and rural health through a comparative lens, which gave me insight on differences within resources, accessibility, and patient care. Navigating throughout the month with broken Spanish was definitely my biggest challenge, but it also reignited my interest in learning it in the classroom.

What’s your plan now that you are focusing on getting experience? You were talking to me about a potential opportunity with a fellowship that would send you to Chile as well as applying to medical schools and jobs?

Yeah, so I applied for a Fulbright fellowship to conduct research in Chile hoping to observe how the physician-training model has changed in response to increased rates of childhood obesity over the past two decades. If I'm fortunate enough to receive this award, I would leave March 2020 for about 10 months to complete this project. As of now, I am a finalist for the award and should hear back by the end of the month. Of course, I would love to be awarded this honor, but the process itself has been so formative in its own right. In addition to that, I’ll be applying to medical school this summer as well as some jobs back home in Philly. So right now, post-grad plans are still up in the air.

Can you speak on the relationship you have with your parents and how they instilled a hard work ethic in you?

I am eternally grateful for the relationship that I have with my parents and for all that they have sacrificed for me. My work ethic is a direct product of my parents’ attitude towards work. Watching my mom work 2-3 jobs and my dad working 10 – 14 hours shifts instilled in me what hard work really looks like. Even though I saw how hard they worked, it took me years to understand why. But when I finally realized their “why,” my own motivation also became clear. I was working to repay my parents 1000 times over and make sure they would be proud of what I became.

Life is all about experiences. There’s the notion that there’s a set path to follow in life: go to school, get a job, raise a family, retire. But, I think through that, people lose the importance of living in the moment and in the present. Going out and experiencing different cultures and walks of life.

For a while, I was under the impression that there was only one acceptable way to do things, exactly like what you mentioned - go to school, get a job, raise a family, retire. However, I think my experience in Ecuador gave me a taste of a different lifestyle, not only from a cultural perspective but also from an exploratory perspective.

What does time mean to you?

Time is incredibly valuable to me whether its time with those I care about most or time spent alone. I do my best to stay present in the moment and not get absorbed by the past or future. I’ve realized over the years that I must take advantage of the time that I've been given and use that time to live out my vocation.

What are your life-goals?

Thinking big-picture ideas, one day I plan to open up a non-profit organization. I’m interested in health, fitness, and well-being, especially among populations affected by social health disparities. For a while, I've witnessed corner stores and fast food spots dominate these neighborhoods, but rarely have I seen an affordable and natural spot to purchase healthy snacks. I’m thinking of something like a Pure Raw Juice. I would love to have an affordable spot like that in inner-city Baltimore or North Philly.

Who inspires you? Who are your muses and role-models?

My parents stand out as those who have been most influential in my life. But I would be remiss if I did not mention my grandparents here. Unfortunately, my family lost both our patriarch and matriarch, my paternal grandparents, within the past year and a half. Of course, I knew their greatness on a personal level but I wasn't around to see them build what my family has become. I remember one family friend described them as “the architects who built the village” in which we all were raised. Their legacy lives through me and I aspire to have that kind of legacy.

// How will you inspire others?

I want to be exactly what my physician was for me: An influential figure who turned a far-fetched dream into my reality. I want to provide future generations of black and brown doctors with the confidence to be excellent in all that they do while knowing that they are meant to be exactly what their calling is.

Update #1
February 9th, 2020

A Year In Review: Justin Montague’s 2019

Thank you for following up with me on this amazing piece that you put together. Here’s a little update on what I’ve been up to:

Since the original piece, I graduated from undergrad and started a job as a medical scribe at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In only 6 short months, I have learned so much about the practice of medicine and have had the opportunity to work with some of the top physicians in the country. It’s safe to say that this experience has been invaluable in confirming my desire to become a physician. The path to get there is long, and sometimes unforgiving, but I am set to accomplish this goal.

Additionally, at the time of the original piece I was awaiting a response regarding a Fulbright fellowship that would take me to Santiago, Chile for 10 months. I’m honored and excited to share that I have received the fellowship and will be leaving at the end of February 2020 to embark on this new journey. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how I feel as my departure date is slowly approaching because it’s a mix of so many. Gratitude, anxiety, and excitement are a few just to start. I know I will be challenged in ways that I have never imagined but I’m prepared to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think that it is in that time when I will grow the most individually – when leaning into the uneasiness that comes with being in a new environment.

I feel so blessed for the present opportunity as it will allow me to develop some of my professional interest through a different lens. My intended research project will provide me with outlooks on health care, public health, and medicine that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to capture. Even more so, I’m looking forward to experiencing the culture and vibrant people of Chile. I know that this kind of cultural and intellectual exchange will be invaluable.

Justin Montague

Update #2
March 13th, 2020

Fullbright 2020 US Student - Justin Montague