Faces of U of T Medicine: Geoffrey and Matthew Sem

Aug 22, 2018

Matthew and Geoffrey Sem are brothers, best friends, and incoming 2T2 classmates. As they prepare to join the rest of their at UofTMed, they reflect on what brought them here and why there’s no one better than a sibling to bring along on this journey.

What did you do before coming to UofTMed?

Geoffrey: I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Kinesiology and Health Science at York University. I was fortunate to learn from exceptional mentors who pushed me to step outside my comfort zone. From dancing on York’s competitive breakdance team to serving as Co-President for the Heart & Stroke Foundation Club, I was encouraged to pursue my interests. I’ve also volunteered with several vulnerable populations including immigrant youths, refugees, and Canadian war veterans, which helped pave the way for my passion in social justice and advocacy.

Matthew: I completed three years of the four-year Kinesiology and Health Science program at York University. Throughout my undergrad, I conducted research in concussions and volunteered regularly (and still do) as a crisis/suicide-line responder for several organizations, including the Toronto Distress Centres and the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service. I also enjoyed working as a dance instructor teaching hip-hop and breakdance to children at various community centres, which was always a highlight of my week!

You two went for the same undergrad degree and now you’re both starting medical school. Was that planned or purely coincidental?

Geoffrey: That’s a good question and one we often get asked! It was definitely not planned or deliberate; on the contrary, it was just how things played out. Although we both pursued the same undergrad degree at York (and now UofTMed), we had different reasons for choosing these fields. What attracted me to kinesiology was its multidisciplinary nature, diverse range of course offerings and opportunities to learn beyond the classroom setting via community placements and practicums.

Matthew: For me, it was the fact that kinesiology fit my interest in the intersection between exercise and the human body. I also enjoyed the well-designed structure and abundant opportunities within the York University Kinesiology program. The convenience of staying at home where I could continue my various volunteering and extracurricular commitments while being close to family was certainly another benefit.

What made you want to be a doctor?

Geoffrey: My decision to become a doctor was cultivated over years of my lived experiences. One pivotal experience was during my role as a youth mentor with the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT). Physicians are advocates, and I was exposed to this firsthand while working with my mentee, a Syrian refugee youth who arrived in Canada several years ago. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of providing mentorship, helping with schoolwork, and strengthening his English literacy skills. I reached out to a psychiatrist from CCVT’s medical team one time for her help in landing a crucial employment opportunity for my mentee (which he eventually secured!). We worked together to discuss strategies to best support him and explored his career prospects. Witnessing the level of care and compassion she put into her work coupled with the inspiring lessons of struggle, resilience and courage I learned through the narratives my mentee shared with me, was a powerful influence on my decision to pursue medicine.

Matthew: In grade 2, my parents gave me an anatomy book for kids, and I remember being fascinated by the intricacies of the human body. There was a picture of the forearm with all the veins, arteries and nerves running through it, and I recall placing my own forearm next to the diagram and being mesmerized by how much was going on under my own skin. I think at that moment, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. As my interest in science grew as school progressed, my passions for mental health advocacy and helping others also grew as I started volunteering with different vulnerable populations. By university, I knew medicine was my calling.

How did it feel when you got your acceptance letter?

Geoffrey: It was surreal. In the moment, I was overwhelmed with happiness and had to re-read my acceptance letter several times (by now, I’ve lost count). Once it settled in, I just felt incredibly grateful and appreciative to have such an amazing team of supporters behind me – notably my family, friends and mentors. Needless to say, it was a truly memorable day!

Matthew: It was the happiest moment of my life. I was staring at my acceptance letter for a few seconds in complete disbelief when I heard cheering coming from Geoff's room. At that moment, I knew both our dreams came true, so I raced over to his room and we started jumping in circles with our dad in pure elation. Entering this application cycle with him, we both knew there were many different possible outcomes. To have received the best possible end result is an absolute blessing.

How does it feel to be starting medical school with your brother?

Geoffrey: I’m absolutely thrilled! My family has always been my foundation and they mean the world to me. They help to keep me grounded and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them in my life. Having the opportunity to spend the next 4 years in medical school with Matthew is truly a blessing and an honour. Having him in my class definitely comes with many benefits, but knowing that I’ll always have his unconditional support regardless of how tough it gets is the most important to me.

Matthew: Apart from being my older brother, Geoff’s also my best friend whom I look up to a lot, so it's an honour and a privilege to start the next chapter of my life with him. We work really well together as a team and part of the reason why we complement each other is that we're very different in many ways that click - our personalities, interests, and passions. We’ll be moving downtown together and I'm excited to have a roommate who also doubles as my study buddy. It's also nice to have an easily accessible partner to practice my clinical skills on!

What are you most looking forward to as a UofTMed student?

Geoffrey: I can’t wait to meet my classmates, contribute to student-led initiatives, participate in intramurals, and explore the city of Toronto. But above all, what I’m most looking forward to is the opportunity to interact closely with patients, listen to their unique narratives, and learn from them.

Matthew: Aside from receiving a world-class medical education, I’m looking forward to making life-long memories with my fellow classmates, getting involved with all of UofTMed’s opportunities, and taking part in patient care within clinical settings - something I’ve been yearning to do for a long time!

What do you like to do outside of school?

Geoffrey: I enjoy staying active (skateboarding, soccer, hiking, etc.), listening to music, being in nature, and spending time with loved ones. Matthew and I have been breakdancing for 6 years now and it’s always a blast to throw down some moves and freestyle with him. It’s also a great stress reliever!

Fun fact: I once fractured Matthew’s wrist due to a dance routine gone wrong.

Matthew: Having played soccer and badminton competitively in the past (Geoff was my doubles partner), I enjoy keeping active, playing sports, and working out whenever I can. I also have a great support network of friends and family who are my backbone, and I love sharing laughs and making memories with them.

Fun fact: Geoffrey is a centimetre taller than me.

Faces of U of T Medicine introduces you to some of the interesting people studying in the Faculty of Medicine. From advising political leaders to providing care to Toronto’s most vulnerable populations, members of our community are having an impact at home and around the world.

Do you have an interesting story to share? Contact us at medicine.communications@utoronto.ca.

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