Working Toward a Bright Future in Medicine

Post-Bacc Health student, scholarship winner Matt Klinkel wants to pay it forward

It is not surprising that Robert Matthew (Matt) Klinkel has excelled as a student in UC Berkeley Extension’s Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program; in 2014, he was a Fulbright scholar at an honors college. It’s even less surprising that he won one of this year’s scholarships, which will help him achieve his professional goals. A first-generation college graduate, Matt’s personal motivation and hard work in the classroom make him a positive example of who an Extension student is.

Given his academic history, why did he initially seek a post-bacc program? His long-term goal is to be a psychiatrist, neurologist or pediatric physician in a high-need Spanish-speaking community either in California or his home state of Florida. And while his education had focused on language, it hadn’t initially pointed to a medical field.

Looking back, Matt’s personal life had a significant impact on his educational and professional ambitions.

“My mother has had significant psychiatric impairment throughout my life, and I also have three nephews with neurodevelopmental disorders,” he explains. “These factors not only contributed to tumult in my life growing up, but also contributed significantly to whom I am as a person, what I am passionate about in my personal and professional life, and what career I would like to pursue.”

That passion also includes language acquisition. “Languages are sort of my lifeblood. They were my first academic passion in high school, and helped me cope with the challenging upbringing and overcoming a lot of those challenges.

“I studied Spanish, French and Chinese to advanced levels throughout high school and college,” he continues. “I spent time abroad on government programs or grants, studying or living with host families in my undergrad and post-undergrad.”

From Personal to Professional Experience

“Between 2010 and 2014, I attended New College of Florida, which is the designated honors college of the state system,” Matt tells me. “Its education system is somewhat radical: There are no grades, you complete an independent study project each January, you can design your own courses (I did several one-on-one tutorials with professors in areas of interest) and all students must complete a comprehensive thesis project over the course of their fourth year related to their area of concentration.

“I studied psychology and languages there and while working on my thesis, which was on Spanish and Chinese vocabulary acquisition in second-language learners in an undergraduate setting, I became very interested in research.”

The combination led him to be interested in psychiatry and the brain. Indirectly, this is also how Matt ended up in the Bay Area.

“After college, I did a Fulbright in Taiwan teaching English at a rural elementary school for a year. During this time, my best friend from college moved to Sacramento to work at a women’s center.

“It got me thinking about my future, and I began browsing psychiatry clinics and research programs across the country,” Matt continues. “A new autism and neurodevelopmental program, STAR Center for ASD & NDDs, was just about to open at UCSF. There wasn’t a job position open, but I sent a cover letter and résumé to the director anyway that talked about my research experience in the language acquisition and neurodevelopment field, as well as about my nephews. Miraculously, everything worked out, and I was a UCSF employee upon my return to the United States.”

It was during his work at UCSF that he discovered his professional goals went beyond research.

“Working at the UCSF STAR Center is what inspired me to become a medical doctor,” he recalls. “We had a multidisciplinary team—social workers, speech pathologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, behavior analysts—with whom I worked closely to serve patients of all ages in a clinical setting. Seeing the extremely high level of care that was possible through teamwork was inspiring. Upon learning more about everyone’s positions, I felt that psychiatry was the field that called me the most.”

Acting Upon His Calling

To reach his professional goals of working as a psychiatrist in an underserved community, Matt enrolled in our Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program in order to complete premed coursework, receive guidance in the application process and support his goal of learning Spanish for medical professionals.

“The program has benefited me in many ways,” he says. “I chose it because of the flexibility in selecting and taking classes. I have been working 30–40 hours a week while taking classes, so the flexibility has been critical for my success. It has allowed me to maintain full-time or nearly full-time work and has also offered interesting upper-division courses that I would not have been able to take elsewhere, such as molecular biology and biochemistry. I also hope to take a neuroscience course before I begin medical school.

“I am required to take Organic Chemistry Laboratory II,” he adds, regarding his plans, “and I’ll also consider taking courses in anatomy, physiology and microbiology to prepare myself for medical school, which I intend to apply to in summer 2020 after I complete the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).”

As for his overall experience in the program thus far, Matt says he’s enjoyed the classes. That has a lot to do with his fellow classmates.

“The classes tend to be filled with hardworking students who are very serious about their academics; I find a lot of them to be inspiring,” he extols.

“I have maintained a relationship with some students I have overlapped with across several courses. There were times where I have received help and support from other more experienced students, and now that my classes are almost done I find myself helping teach other students more and paying it all back. It has been a very positive social experience.”

How Extension Has Benefited From Him

It’s not just Matt who has benefited from the interaction. According to his two-time chemistry instructor, Gregory Watkins, Ph.D., Matt’s presence in his classes has “made the classroom a more positive place to learn for the other students.”

Dr. Watkins adds:

He definitely stands out as being a particularly dedicated and bright student. I was impressed by his creative problem-solving and his strong desire to understand the material. I consider myself lucky as an instructor to have taught him twice. [He] is a positive example of the kind of high-quality students who matriculate through Extension’s post-baccalaureate program.

“Without UC Berkeley Extension, it would have been a greater challenge to find a viable path toward my professional goals while living and working in the Bay Area,” Matt admits. “I am appreciative of this program, and especially for this scholarship. I have supported myself since high school, but in order to prepare for medical school, I have incurred personal debt that the scholarship will reduce.”

Congratulations Matt, and we look forward to hearing about your future professional success!