Justin Roberts has taken a roundabout path to a career as a physician.
He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Maine, where he was an offensive lineman on the football team. After earning a degree in business, he took prerequisite courses for medical school at William Paterson University in his home state of New Jersey.
Finally, he earned his medical degree in 2016 at St. George’s University School of Medicine on the island of Grenada in the West Indies.
Roberts said his time at UMaine prepared him well for his journey.
“I had an amazing time. Maine was the perfect fit for me,” said the 2007 graduate of UMaine, where he was a starting offensive guard. “I was also involved in the community. I was able to develop my work ethic there.”
He said juggling academics and athletics is like having two full-time jobs.
“You have to have time management skills. You have to be able to prioritize things you need to get done and do them efficiently,” Roberts said.
“I loved majoring in business at Maine and I loved the university’s approach to business. I had a great path. I really enjoyed it,” Roberts said.
“But as time progressed, I saw myself moving more and more toward a career in medicine,” he added.
After UMaine, Roberts enrolled at William Paterson but needed a job to pay the bills. His exhausting schedule included attending school during the day and being a bouncer at a New York City lounge at night for just over a year.
After applying to medical school and being rejected, he landed a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep. It wound up being a turning point in his life.
“I got to interact with a lot of physicians in a hospital setting and that gave me a unique perspective,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of physicians from St. George’s and they were not only respected by their patients, they were also respected highly by their peers which is a huge compliment in medicine.”
So he applied to the foundations program at St. George’s and was accepted.
“It was like a medical school tryout,” said Roberts, who enjoyed the warm, sunny weather on the island, the welcoming people and a school with “a really strong tradition in producing capable physicians.”
While in Granada, he served as the president of Physicians for Human Rights.
When he returned to the United States, one of his rotations was in orthopedics. He had hoped to become an orthopedic surgeon but changed his mind after participating in a surgery.
“I realized I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I underwent an identity crisis. I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”
His anesthesiology rotation proved illuminating.
“There was an open-heart case and there were some complications,” he recalled. “The anesthesiologist took command of the operating room. His knowledge and his ability to adapt to what needed to be done was unreal.
“I told myself I need to do what that guy does for the rest of my life. I was blown away,” he said.
Roberts is now doing his residency in anesthesiology at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He is applying for an adult cardiothoracic anesthesiology fellowship.
At UMaine, he developed lifelong friendships and special bonds. Future NFL players Mike DeVito and Matt Mulligan were among his roommates. He has stayed in contact with are Montell Owens and former head coach Jack Cosgrove, among others.
“It doesn’t matter if I haven’t talked to some of these guys in a year or two. When we get together, we pick up right where we left off,” Roberts said.
DeVito said Roberts was aggressive and violent on the field but a wonderful person to be around off the field.
“He is one of the nicest, most kind-hearted people I’ve ever been around,” DeVito said. “He is smart and he always had his entire day mapped out. He had a very systematic approach to life.
“He was the guy you wanted to be around if things weren’t going well because he would always lift you up,” DeVito added.
Roberts, who had a live black bear appear on his lawn the day Cosgrove visited his New Jersey home, seemed destined to attend UMaine.
Cosgrove said going up against the likes of all-conference defensive players DeVito and Matt King in practice every day benefitted all three of them.
“[He was an] incredibly hard worker who always wanted to get better. Justin was a solid player for us,” Cosgrove said.
Roberts’ career highlights included UMaine’s trip to the University of Nebraska in 2005 (a 25-7 loss) and the game at Boston College (a 22-0 setback) in 2006.
“The Nebraska game was cool. But while we were in Nebraska, a buddy of mine sent me a photo of a moose standing in my parking space at Maine. I always wanted to see a [live] moose,” he said with a laugh.
Roberts said his best memory was playing at Boston College, a game witnessed by his immediate family and his grandparents.
“I was a senior and I felt like I was playing at the top of my game and we were playing against guys with NFL talent. I felt good about what we were doing,” Roberts said. “It was special.”
He was elated that the 2018 UMaine team became the first in program history to reach the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals.
“I was in Chicago at a medical conference and I was watching a [playoff] game in the lobby and cheering,” said Roberts, whose 2006 team went 6-5 overall, 5-3 in the Atlantic 10.
“They had a great year and it couldn’t have happened to a better group of guys,” he added. “I know what you have to go through at Maine.”
Maine will always hold a special place in his heart.
The 35-year-old Roberts, his wife, Angela, and son, Ethan, who soon turns 2, vacation in Maine every year.
“We come up in late summer, early fall,” he said. “We go to the coast and relax for a couple of days and then we take in a Maine football game.”