“When some of my friends were very young they already knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. Not me,” says Dr. Matt Harms, 42, a hospitalist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
It took nearly four years of college and six months of hard manual labor in Brazil before Harms discovered his life’s purpose. During his childhood days in Newton, Harms exhibited creative tendencies.
“My two brothers and I would fill the sandbox with water from the garden hose,” he recalls. “When it dried, we created cities and roads for our cars.”
He enjoyed oil painting, playing piano and guitar, and playing in the school band. But after graduating in 1985, he opted to develop his scientific side and enrolled in physics at Kansas University.
“After a while I thought physics wasn’t human enough for me, so I changed to humanities,” he says. “I attended every humanities course I could find but decided they weren’t scientific enough.”
He found himself putting more effort into his job at Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse than into college assignments.
“After over three years at KU I had 130 credits, a 3.0 GPA and no idea of what I wanted to be or do, so I volunteered for a building project with the Mennonite church in Brazil,” he explains.
It was the right prescription.
“Six months of manual labor helped tremendously,” he says. “It enabled me to see life from the outside in. The whole experience renewed my faith and confidence. I decided I’d go into medicine because it was a good blend of my strengths in science and humanities. I believed it was an area where I could make a difference.”
He completed his internal medicine residency at KU Medical Center. In 2000, he helped set up a hospitalist program at Topeka Veteran’s Medical Center and moved to LMH in 2005.
Harms loves being a hospitalist, which is a physician who specializes in all aspects of patients’ care from admission to discharge. He enjoys the challenges presented when acutely ill patients’ history, exams and tests don’t reveal the obvious problem.
“It’s rewarding to be able to make a diagnosis and see these patients improve and recover from life-threatening conditions,” he says.
His faith and strong people skills, combined with his medical expertise, help Harms support and encourage patients and families to achieve peace and acceptance when recovery doesn’t happen.
“At life’s critical moments I experience God’s presence and feel connected to my deepest spiritual self,” he says.
He hasn’t forgotten the important part the Brazilian trip played in his life. He’s made two recent mission trips — one to Honduras in 2007, the other to Kenya in 2008 — where he helped provide free medical care in makeshift clinics.
“I feel blessed,” Harms says. “I want to continue serving others because I’ve received so much myself.”