FEATURE STORY: Following his North Star led a Marshall psychiatry fellow to musical research and making an album of his own

It is hard to tell where Mathew Lemberger the doctor ends and Mathew Lemberger the musician begins. 

Really, it’s the case that these two previously separate aspects of Dr. Lemberger, known as “Mats” to his family and friends, have come to be the themes of his life as he graduates from the child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and returns home to Dartmouth College as a faculty member at the Geisel School of Medicine. 

“I didn’t really know what was in the cards for me, but I was tenacious and stayed focused on my North Star. When you encounter turbulent times, it’s important to remember why you started your journey.”  

The end of Lemberger’s fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry this summer followed by the start of a new job this fall also comes with a new album composed of songs he wrote while he completed coursework and rotations at Marshall.  

Lemberger’s album, “Blue Notes from Underground” (released under the name Psych Flu) is a tribute to ballads in the old-time American music tradition, which he says have always fascinated him. 

“Living in West Virginia deepened my curiosity for those old songs,” he said. “This region has been the setting for ballads, including murder ballads, which I’ve always found fascinating because they are often beautiful songs but about psychologically troubling content. I just find that really intriguing.” 

Lemberger found his way to his “second home” in Huntington upon a path different than most of his peers.  

He grew up on Long Island, New York, where he got into playing the guitar after his mom bought him a book of cowboy chords when he was 12.  

“Over the years, I've tried to find different ways of sharing my love of music,” he said. “I played in some musical productions in high school and started to look at music as a way of understanding culture, understanding America through music.” 

He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Dartmouth College in 2006 and spent the next year teaching English at an agricultural school in Greece. 

When he returned to the United States, he took an EMT training course that inspired him to pursue a career in medicine. After completing the postbaccalaureate premedical program at Bryn Mawr College, he followed his North Star to McDowell County, West Virginia, where he spent a gap year while applying to medical school. 

Lemberger previously explored Appalachia in college during an internship that had him collecting oral histories of elderly musicians throughout the rural South, including a coal miner/songwriter from Caretta, West Virginia, who became a dear friend and musical mentor.  

“I’ve always been enchanted by the history and the culture and the people of Appalachia,” Lemberger said.  

Applying to the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine was an easy choice for Lemberger who credits Marshall with providing a clinical education that is second to none, saying he knew he found the right place at the right time in Huntington.  

After graduating with his M.D. in 2019, he remained in Huntington to complete his residency and fellowship at Marshall. He starts his new job at Dartmouth in September.  

“I’ll always look at Huntington in particular and Appalachia more broadly as a second home,” he said. “I just think of the sense of community, the genuine concern for your neighbor and the appreciation for life. I think about that on a deep level, and it’s very real for me here. Ultimately, I believe I'm going to be a better doctor as a result of my journey at Marshall.” 

His medical studies, his love of music, and his enchantment with Appalachia led him down a path of investigating the benefits of live music therapy for children who have experienced trauma. His preliminary research has shown that after eight weeks of participation in live music programming, there was a reduction in psychiatric emergencies and as-needed medications for agitation and aggression among patients at a trauma-focused inpatient pediatric treatment setting. 

“The common thread for me was a desire to live a life where I would wake up every day and my purpose would be to reduce human suffering in a very direct way,” he said. “It began as an idealistic motivation without honestly knowing a whole lot about the steps it would take to reach the goal. It was a leap of faith, but I felt that sense of calling.” 

It is a good feeling to know that following his North Star has given him the means to support other people in finding their own way in life. 

FEATURE STORY by Lacie Pierson
PHOTOS by Sholten Singer 

Date Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2024