Some doctors will tell you the first year of medical school is the hardest. Matt Joy found himself adjusting to life in a new city in addition to taking tough classes such as anatomy and biochemistry.

Joy, 29, is a native of the San Francisco area and spent the past 10 years in Los Angeles. In July, he moved across the country with his wife, Jessica, to Roanoke, where he began his first year of medical school at the brand-new Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. He later was elected the first president of the school's student body.

Joy not only found a medical school that fit his needs, but he found that Roanoke was a city where he enjoyed less traffic, beautiful outdoor surroundings and a thriving downtown. Joy talked recently about his first year at the school and his experience in Roanoke.

Q: Why did you choose to come to VTC?

I picked VTC mainly for the small size and the attention to new technology and research. I pictured the small size as allowing a lot of contacts with faculty and a lot of attention from faculty and a lot of access to faculty and to the facilities here both at the school and at Carilion. And that definitely has been the case for me. I've really enjoyed being on a first-name basis with essentially the entire faculty and the administration, having their attention and their help pretty much whenever we need it.

Q: Why did you decide to get involved with student government?

I kind of generally see myself as having good leadership skills. I've held leadership roles in other organizations previously that I've participated in. As kind of a nontraditional medical student in that I took some time off after undergrad and did some other things before coming to medical school, I was a little bit older than of some of the other classmates and felt that also put me in sort of a leadership position.

Q: Do you think there are differences because this is VTC's first year?

Oh, absolutely, it's drastically different. We are kind of doing everything for the first time. Part of that sounds a little scary, but it's really been an amazing experience, too, because the faculty has been so attentive to hear from us about what we think about how it's going, to listen to our feedback. And it feels really special to be that intricately involved in the process. To feel like not only are you doing it for the first time, but you're really kind of molding that experience as you're going through it, setting precedents and traditions as we go along. It's a pretty cool way to go about it.

Q: How do you feel about living in Roanoke?

It is a lot different than Los Angeles. But it's not terribly different from where I actually grew up, which was a smaller town in the suburbs of San Francisco. That was one thing that my wife and I both were looking for. We had both been in L.A. for about 10 years, and my wife is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just down the road from here. Both of us had really enjoyed Los Angeles and enjoyed the big city, but I think we were ready for a change of pace, to get back to a little more mellow pace. Certainly a lot less traffic, and just kind of a more laid-back lifestyle. It's been also a nice perk to have a much lower cost of living, since I'm a student and she works part time now, full time next year as a teacher. So it's also really nice to have a much lower cost of living so we can still do all the things we want to do and really be able to afford that on a single salary.

Q: What do you think Roanoke can do to attract or retain young professionals?

I think they're on the right track with all the revitalization that I see going on downtown -- that seems to be pulling a lot of interest. There's some great restaurants, a couple that have opened recently in the last year. The arts community and the music community downtown seems to be thriving along with that, and I think that's a big draw. It was definitely a big plus for me to know that while it's a smaller town with a lot of rural surrounding communities, that the downtown area was bustling and has a great farmers market, has a lot of festivals and has some modern living options. We definitely saw that as a big plus, and that vitality in downtown will definitely be a big draw for that younger generation of people coming here looking to be involved in the medical and scientific community, and any community, really.

Q: Would you consider taking a job here?

Absolutely. As a first-year medical student, it's a long way off with residency selection, but my wife and I are very happy living in this community. We've made friends both in the med school and outside the med school and see it as a wonderful place, especially in terms of raising a family, which for us is something in the future. But we both see this as a place that would be definitely conducive to that. My wife as I mentioned earlier is a teacher, and what she's seen in terms of education here, we'd both be really happy with raising children here with services that are provided both by the city and privately as well. But I think in all respects it seems to be a place that would be a good fit for us in the future -- it's just a matter of where my qualifications can take me in terms of residency.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring medical school students who are considering VTC?

I would advise them that if they want a small school with small classes where they are going to get to know everyone really well, and an extremely supportive environment where students share resources -- it's not a competitive but challenging environment -- then this is definitely the place for them. And they'll find some really unique research opportunities, too, especially as our research institute is gearing up. We're getting more and more researchers in that are doing some really amazing work. So I would say if you're interested in focus group education and research then it's definitely the place for you.

And I would say that Roanoke is probably one of the biggest small towns I've ever been a part of, ever. Every time someone tries to say, "Oh, it's just a tiny little town," I'm like, yeah, but you pretty much have everything you could want or need, especially as a med student. You've got it all, including some really beautiful land and the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding us. I also really enjoy the outdoors, camping, backpacking, hiking and stuff so that's been a big plus as well. I think Roanoke has at least a little bit of something to offer for everyone.

Q: What are you looking forward to in the next few years?

I'm particularly looking forward to third and fourth year and working in the hospital. The doctors that we've met to this point that we've volunteered with and shadowed have just been amazingly welcoming and supportive of us, so I'm really looking forward to that opportunity to be working with them closely in the third and fourth year at Carilion and the surrounding clinics.