From Engineering Alumnus to Surgeon

Civil engineering graduate Christopher Martin on front lines in fight against COVID-19

Dr. Christopher Martin. Submitted photo

How did a University of Mississippi civil engineering graduate become a physician on the front lines in the ongoing fight against COVID-19?

The answer is one strategic decision at a time.

“Engineering taught me how to think and solve problems,” said Dr. Christopher Martin, a Natchez surgeon who has spent countless hours in the Merit Health Natchez ICU during the last year, treating pandemic patients.

“I believe it helped teach me skills to think and adapt on the fly. A degree where all the classes just required memorizing facts would not have prepared me in the same way.”

A Family Affair

A Natchez native, Martin comes from a family of engineers – a family tree that helped put him on his path to Ole Miss.

“My grandfather was a civil engineer, and my mother and brother also graduated in civil engineering at Ole Miss,” he said. “I originally chose engineering because I was always interested in math and science.”

Dr. Christopher Martin shares an enjoyable moment with his wife, Lizzie, and children Alice, Robert and Frances. Submitted photo

Upon entering the university, Martin found that the engineering school not only taught him how to think and learn, but it also taught him the value of collaboration with his professors and his peers. He is using all these skills as a surgeon.

“Often during an operation, there are surprises,” he said. “If you only have the textbook memorized, you might not be able to adapt and work your way to the solution. It requires quick problem-solving skills in the operating room to be able to change the course of the operation, communicate with the staff to get the equipment or instruments that are needed, and get to the goal.

“I do believe that the problem-solving skills that are taught in engineering school translate well into medicine,” Martin said.

A number of courses and professors, he said, helped him learn those skills throughout his time at Ole Miss.

“My favorite courses were probably structural design with Dr. (Ahmed) Al-Ostaz,” Martin said. “Whether it was our senior design project or spending afternoons at the school getting help with assignments, it showed the value of not just working alone.”

Major Moves

After graduation, Martin didn’t immediately enter medical school. Instead, he tried his hand at teaching.

“Most people are actually more surprised that I taught high school history and algebra for a year between graduation and med school,” Martin said. “After I finished my studies at the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Medicine, I went to Tulane University for my general surgery residency before returning home to Natchez in 2015.”

Once again, Martin found that the Ole Miss engineering school had prepared him to handle the unpredictable crisis brought on by a global pandemic.

While treating surgical patients and critically ill patients is similar, Martin said that COVID-19 created a lot more patients to care for at once.

He was recently featured in The Natchez Democrat for his efforts to treat Mississippians battling COVID-19 and the level of care he provides to all patients in southwest Mississippi.

Assistant Dean Marni Kendricks said Martin is a shining example of what students can learn and accomplish through an education at Ole Miss and the School of Engineering.

“Christopher was truly one of the best students in my civil engineering class of 2004,” she said. “I’m so proud of my brilliant classmate and friend.”