Wesley L. Mitchell, MSA (MS '08, MSA '14)
Wesley Mitchell Jr., MSA, CSA, became interested in healthcare by way of church and family.
Mitchell’s father was a minister, and after church on Sundays in rural Coosa County, Alabama, the family would visit people in the hospital, nursing homes or their houses to sit and pray with them.
“That put me in the healthcare space, of taking care of others and your community,” says Mitchell, a certified surgical assistant. He owns Highland Surgical, a boutique surgical assistant firm in Atlanta, where he specializes in general surgery, bariatric surgery and robotic surgery.
Mitchell had a grandfather who worked as an orderly at a hospital. “That was my earliest memory of someone being in a medical field,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell studied biology at Tuskegee University. Initially he considered going into research, but then he realized he was more geared to a profession in medicine, by the patient’s bedside.
After college, he was introduced to surgery when he worked for six months at the Alabama Organ Center, harvesting bones and organs. A physician assistant at the center suggested he look into Eastern Virginia Medical School.
“I applied, and the next thing I knew, I was moving to Virginia,” after living in Alabama all his life.
Mitchell attended EVMS from 2006 to 2008, earning a surgical assistant certificate. He then moved to Atlanta to work for a small company for several years before he started Highland Surgical in 2012. In 2013, he obtained a master’s degree in surgical assisting from EVMS through the master’s bridge program.
“EVMS really laid down the foundation for me to soar,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell says he loved the camaraderie he found among students in all of the programs at EVMS. “If you had a question, you could ask your peers,” he says. “No matter what program they were in, everybody was willing to help you find the answer.”
He also fondly recalls anatomy class taught by Paul Aravich, PhD. But perhaps the memory of EVMS that sticks out the most in his mind was a 26-hour trauma rotation that started at 5 a.m. on a Friday at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Mitchell recalled being paired with an attending surgeon and going to every trauma call that came in. The pace didn’t slow down until sometime after midnight. At 3 a.m. the next day, Saturday, Mitchell managed to get a little rest. At 5 a.m., all of the attendings and residents were up, seeing patients and getting ready for the next attending who would be on call.
That day, it was Chair of Surgery L.D. Britt, MD, MPH, “which was extremely exciting for me and very nerve-wracking for me. At that time, I had only seen Dr. Britt in passing,” Mitchell recalls.
“Dr. Britt shows up. We all start rounding together. And I’m not the most important person there at all. I’m just kind of in the background, soaking up all this experience and all this knowledge. I’m taking it all in.”
At one point, Dr. Britt — now EVMS’ Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs, the Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery and the Henry Ford Professor of Surgery — asked a couple residents to describe the process for pronouncing a patient to be brain dead. They answered.
“Then, he called on me,” Mitchell says. “My eyes were so big with shock and surprise that he realized I was there. He’s been all over the world, speaking and giving his time and his knowledge and me, I’m a little kid from Alabama.”
Today, as a Community Faculty member, Mitchell, helps out when EVMS students come to Atlanta yearly for training in robotic surgery. He also returns to EVMS every year to help students prepare to start clinical rotation.
“I always tell them: Your time here at EVMS is going to lay the foundation for you to enter the workforce. You should feel so confident when leaving EVMS that all you have to do now is put building blocks on top of what EVMS has laid for you.”
Mitchell went to a high school where Black students like himself made up about 40 percent of the population. Then, he was surrounded by Black students at Tuskegee, an HBCU. At EVMS, Mitchell was the only Black male student in his class. “Not many Black students decide to go into medicine,” Mitchell says.
He offers this advice to Black students attending EVMS today: “Sometimes you’ll be one of a few, but always put your best foot forward. Know what’s inside of you, and keep reaching for stars.”