Brad Kirby still remembers attending his first Clemson football game at eight years old. His older brother, Travis, was a freshman at Clemson, and Brad says seeing Travis’ experience and the excitement of game day was all it took to hook him.
Ten years separate the Kirby brothers, but both of them ended up in departments that now call the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences home. Both ended up establishing successful careers in health care-related fields. Both were in Death Valley to bear witness to the “pre-Dabo years.”
Travis is a 1992 alum of the psychology department, and he currently serves as both associate professor at the Eastern Virginia Medical School Masters of Physician Assistants program and as a practicing physician assistant. Brad, a 2002 alum of the public health sciences department, is vice president of professional services at Onco, Inc., a software company that provides tools to successfully manage oncology data in cancer programs nationwide.
Travis and Brad look back on their time at Clemson fondly, and both credit their time at Clemson with their many successes in helping others. We got the chance to talk to these brothers about what they’re up to now, and what Clemson still means to them.
Why do you think you were drawn to the health care field?
Travis: I think somewhere in my DNA profile there is a prominent altruistic gene. Combine that with a natural curiosity for detective work and I think that is what steered me in the direction of medicine. However, the inspirational catalyst was being a witness and first on the scene of a fatal auto accident involving a classmate’s father during my junior year in high school. The “helpless feeling” and firsthand account of witnessing the loss of life solidified a lifelong commitment to help others and a fond admiration for emergency medicine in the early years of my career.
Brad: My brother’s interest in medicine and his willingness to share it was certainly an important part of my decision to choose health care as a career path. Travis’s influence, my mother’s cancer diagnosis when I was a child, my aunt’s cancer diagnosis when I was an adult and my interest in statistics when I was younger all served as motivation to pursue a master’s degree in public health and play a role in the cancer registry and cancer epidemiology.
What is a typical work day like for you?
Travis: I am embedded in the academic world four days a week; I provide medical lectures in our Introduction to Clinical Medicine course and get to know, support and interact with my students. On Fridays, I enjoy seeing patients in the office of my local gastroenterology practice where I help to evaluate, diagnose and manage patients with digestive conditions.
Brad: Onco, Inc. is a small business based in New Jersey and has employees all over the country. I spend most of my time meeting virtually with the senior vice president and CEO on strategic initiatives surrounding the organization’s cancer registry software, the oncology navigation software and the professional services side of Onco, Inc. There is also the occasional travel to visit a new client—usually a hospital system—and to attend national conferences to educate others on the products we offer. Most recently, I was in Denver for the National Cancer Registrar’s Association conference.
How did Clemson prepare you for your career?
Travis: It was truly the perfect place for me to learn and grow as a young man. I think being in a safe environment surrounded by great people allowed me to become more confident socially and embrace the challenges that would eventually come my way. The psychology department and my minor in biological sciences were perfect for me because they provided the ideal combination of psychology, biological and health-related sciences that allowed me to become a successful and well-rounded medical practitioner.
Brad: The professors in the public health sciences program really did a great job of making the material interesting. They allowed us to get out in the community, and the Clemson experience helped me understand different points of view. In community education, health promotion and especially health management, you need to understand cultural differences and how viewpoints may differ based upon an individual’s circumstances. I think that’s one thing that college does for students; it helps you to understand that the world is bigger than your own experiences.
When you think about your time at Clemson, what comes to mind?
Travis: My four years at Clemson were simply awesome. I recall a few memorable, pre-Dabo football games and getting a welcoming kiss on the cheek from Nancy Humphries (currently Nancy O’Dell on “Entertainment Tonight”). By the time I was a senior, I realized how cool it was to get to know my professors personally. My fondest memories have always centered on the collective people of Clemson University, the professors, staff, classmates, coaches, counselors, alumni and even the folks in the surrounding communities. Maybe it is just the long drive down from Virginia, but I still get chill bumps every time I start to see those tiger paws on SC 123.
Brad: From an academic standpoint, I really loved Dr. Spitler’s epidemiology class, which obviously made enough of an impact on me that I pursued a master’s degree in public health with an epidemiology concentration. I even kept the book, which is now an antique! From an athletics standpoint, going to Bowden Bowl I in Death Valley, standing on the hill and watching the Tigers keep it tight against Florida State stands out. I was worried during my freshman year in 1998 that my Clemson football experience wasn’t going to be as good as my brother’s, but the hiring of Tommy Bowden strengthened the program and it was amazing to see Death Valley rock like it did in the late Danny Ford years. Of course, that’s just an afterthought these days with Dabo turning us into the best team in the country.
Travis, why did you choose Clemson to begin with?
Travis: That is simple, for me there was no other. I realized it 37 years ago when I stepped onto campus and into Death Valley for the first time. Accompanied by my neighbor (Bill Pearson, ’65), his son, and his father-in-law (Maxcy Crews, ’41), I was educated on all things Clemson at the young age of 12, and I never looked back. Thankfully, I was able to pass that along to my brother and now my daughter who will be starting this year. It always makes me chuckle, but every year when I get my lab work for yearly physicals, the phlebotomist looks at my blood and says “you either have some strange metabolic disease or you are a devout Clemson fan.” Naturally, I take pride in the latter.
Brad, how did Travis’ career trajectory influence your own?
Brad: Travis’s career trajectory certainly influenced me as he was establishing himself as a physician’s assistant when I was in high school and trying to figure out what to do in life. He helped me get a job as an ER tech for one summer during college, and it helped me realize that direct patient care was not necessarily something I was interested in. As I continued my development at Clemson and my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, I realized that my passion was really around the data analytics side of oncology, so I focused my efforts there.
How do you both stay connected to Clemson now?
Brad: We’re lucky enough to have stayed near each other so our families can see each other pretty regularly. While I haven’t made it down to campus as much as I would have liked since I graduated, Travis, my dad and I came down a few years ago together for a Florida State game. I also had the opportunity to bring my wife to campus and show her around on the way back from a trip to Florida. Usually Travis and I will watch a few football games and we’ll talk Clemson sports whenever we get together.
Travis: I try to give back whenever I can. I currently participate in the Tigers on Call event each fall and provide two lectures annually to the PAWS for PA’s Club and the Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Professional Health Honor Society. Now that my daughter will be starting her own chapter at Clemson, I suspect I may be taking on some new challenges and returning to campus a bit more.
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