College of Science

Alumni spotlight: Dr. Stoney Abercrombie


Dr. Stoney Abercrombie

Dr. Stoney Abercrombie didn’t set out to start an international nonprofit organization. He started just by volunteering to organize a medical mission trip to Honduras in 1985 after hearing a physician and pastor talk about the poverty and medical needs of people in his country.

“I told him I would get a team together and we would come down and, in one week, we’d build a clinic and see patients without really having any earthly idea of what I was getting into,” said Abercrombie, a family medicine physician and a 1972 Clemson University pre-med graduate.

The village in the Honduran mountains was so remote that the eight members of the construction team had to dig sand to make their own cement blocks for the eight-room clinic. The medical team consisting of Abercrombie and three nurses saw 1,600 patients that week.

Foundation of nonprofit organization

The success of the trip led to the desire to conduct additional trips, leading to the foundation of Volunteers in Medical Missions in 1986.

A man wearing scrubs and a Clemson Tigers hat talks to a Honduran woman while another man looks on.
Dr. Stoney Abercrombie talks to a patient during a medical mission trip to Honduras.

“That first trip, I was so naïve,” said Abercrombie, who is also an ordained minister. “But I said that if it was something that God has ordained and really wants, it will go well. And that if it was just some idea in my mind, it would fall flat on its face. It’s been going on for 38 years now.”

VIMM has made more than 400 medical mission trips to 34 countries on six continents, providing medical and dental care to more than a half million people. The volunteers have also built medical clinics, bridges and schools.

Abercrombie remembers one trip to the Rift Valley in Tanzania when more than 6,000 patients showed up to be seen by the team of 20 medical professionals.

“We had people lying on dirt floors getting IV fluids because they were dehydrated. We were suturing up people. We were providing antibiotics. We were doing all kinds of procedures. I thought there was no way we could see that many people, but we did. It took us five days working from sunup to sundown,” Abercrombie said. Many would have died without treatment because they were so sick and dehydrated.

Life-changing medicine

On another trip to Africa, Abercrombie saw an older lady whose complaint was that she couldn’t hoe her garden because she couldn’t raise her arm because of a massive fatty tumor. Abercrombie spent hours cutting it out.

a man wearing medical scrubs is writing somebody on paper while two women watch.
Dr. Stoney Abercrombie teaches a Cambodian medical student about patient care. Photo provided.

Six months later, Abercrombie received a photograph. It was the woman out in a field waving at the camera. 

“I still cherish that photograph,” he said.

He will be making his 68th VIMM trip this month.

“I really felt a calling, a mission to do this. I think that was one of the reasons I was put on this Earth. One of the reasons I was able to go to medical school was to give back,” Abercrombie said.

Abercrombie grew up in Six Mile, South Carolina, and attended D.W. Daniel High School, which is less than five miles from the Clemson campus.

Nobody in his family had attended college, let alone medical school. But Abercrombie knew he wanted to be a doctor since he was 15 years old after he took biology and chemistry in high school.

“I fell in love with anatomy and trying to figure out what the body does. It fascinated me. Plus, I love to talk, and I love being around people and getting to know people. One of the reasons I chose family medicine was because I could have a relationship with patients over the years. I’ve taken care of four and five generations families. I’ve delivered babies of babies I’ve delivered,” he said.

Support system

But that wouldn’t have been possible without people who supported him.

“There were some people who stepped up for me because I didn’t know anybody in the medical field, except for some private doctors in Pickens. But I had some people who said they believed in me, and they helped open some doors for me,” Abercrombie said. “Of course, once they open the door, you must be willing to go in. I worked my tail off to make good grades. People may be smarter than me, but they will not outwork me.”

Abercrombie went on to graduate from the Medical University of South Carolina before completing his family medicine residency program at the Greenville Hospital System. 

After spending two years in the military, he went into private practice in Seneca, South Carolina, for eight years. After that, he served as the residency director of family medicine at Self Regional Medical Center in Greenwood for a decade, executive director of South Carolina Area Health Education Center for three years and residency director of family medicine at AnMed Health for 11 years.

New program

Dr. Stoney Abercrombie talks to students during April’s Tigers on Call event. Photo by Pete Martin.

In 2013, he was recruited by MUSC to become the founding dean of the MUSC AnMed Health Clinical Campus, a program that allows a select group of third- and fourth-year MUSC students to complete their final two years of education at AnMed Health. The program emphasizes primary care and a handful of specialties.

“In a class of 180, they may see a baby delivery. Here, you will deliver babies or be first assistant. For the right person, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” Abercrombie said.

Abercrombie also participates in Tigers on Call, an event that connects Clemson students interested in health professions with alumni and friends working in the field.

He said many of the students who participate have similar stories to his.

“Somebody opened the door for me, so I just want to help open the door for them,” he said.

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