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Ever since he was a boy in Rockford, Ill., Matthew Ralph has had a dedicated ambition.
“When I was in second grade, we had a career day and a cardiothoracic surgeon came to talk,” he said. “I came home and told my mom that I was going to be a surgeon.”
It may not be any wonder, then, that Ralph – after years of study and professional medical experience – has joined the Oaklawn Medical Group as a general surgeon. His medical specialty focuses on surgery of the gastrointestinal tract, appendix, gallbladder, anti-reflux procedures, hernias, breast, skin and soft tissue, and endoscopy procedures.
Ralph is joining surgeons Catherine Burtrum, D.O., and Theresa Klee, D.O., at the Oaklawn Medical Group-General Surgery office in Suite 3E of the Wright Medical Building at 215 E Mansion St. The office may be contacted at (269) 781-4267.
“Surgery has always fascinated me,” he said. “I never desired or thought of doing something other than being a physician.”
Ralph’s mother, Beverly, was a critical care nurse for 47 years – a fact that almost certainly helped to keep her son’s career drive in focus. Through her encouragement and guidance, he attended medical seminars in his hometown and had opportunities to speak with surgeons and physicians about their work.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the way the human body and living beings in general function,” he said of his own medical interests. “Even in first grade, I would ask my uncle – who was a hunter – to save the deer parts so I could dissect and inspect them.”
In time, his younger sister, Beth, also was sufficiently inspired to become a critical care nurse. She and their mother have worked together at the Swedish American Hospital, a teaching hospital in Rockford.
“She never desired to be anything other than a nurse,” Ralph said of his sister.
A natural tinkerer, Ralph also enjoyed fixing things that were broken – a factor he described as a significant part of any surgeon’s expertise.
“I’ve always enjoyed that manual, hands-on activity, identifying how something works and restoring it to the way it was – investigating, learning and correcting,” he said.
After graduation from high school in Rockford, Ralph earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2003 from Illinois Wesleyan University, and went on to earn his medical degree in osteopathic medicine in 2008 from Midwestern University’s Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Ralph completed his internship and residency in general surgery in 2013 at the Farmington Hills-based Beaumont Hospital, formerly Botsford Hospital.
Ralph has been active in the surgical community at the local, regional and national levels and is a fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons.
Ralph comes to Oaklawn from Ascension Borgess Allegan Hospital and Kalamazoo-based Ascension Borgess Hospital, which he served as a general surgeon. At Allegan, he was chief of surgery and anesthesia/sedation services, as well as trauma medical director.
Since 2013, Ralph has been a member of the clinical faculty of Michigan State University’s department of osteopathic surgical specialties, and has been an instructor in advanced trauma life support since 2018.
Ralph is certified in general surgery by the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery. He is a member of the American Osteopathic Association, the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons, the Michigan Osteopathic Association and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
Ralph and the former Faye Hollenbeck have been married 13 years. They have three boys ages 9, 5, and 7 months old. They have been living in Marshall since June, having moved from their former home in Otsego.
Ralph said his first visit to Marshall while interviewing for the surgical position brought back many of the memories he had of living in a small town.
“I enjoy the parades and being able to get to know my patients,” Ralph said. “Marshall has this small-town feel but it’s thriving. We loved the downtown and the parks. My boys enjoy fishing with me, and exploring the lakes and rivers.”
Ralph said he and his family particularly enjoy taking part in outdoor activities.
“I have the supplies to do so many hobbies I never have time to do – hunting, bicycling and adventure riding,” he said.
Another appealing factor for Ralph is the fact that Oaklawn offers a wide range of medical services.
“It has the benefit of a higher acuity of patient care, including an intensive care unit and a large variety of specialties,” he said.
“There’s a lot of community involvement here – people trying to make Oaklawn the best that it can be,” Ralph said. “That’s completely what I want to do. I want to help Oaklawn thrive and continue into the future.”