Growing up in the heart of Los Angeles, California, the thought of fully engaging with my community in a positive light was often clouded with the strong influences of ringing gunfire, activities of gangs, and infiltration of drugs. Although these influences affected my family personally, I credit the wisdom of my parents, immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, for guiding my siblings and me to explore ways to see beyond our current situations. Fast forwarding several years later, I would also now credit an institution, the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), for setting the tone of my growth in finding the best of myself in the service of, and engagement with, others.
In my first two years at ACOM, I made it a top priority to engage with my fellow classmates and the administration through leadership positions in the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and Inaugural Student Ambassador Program. As the 2016 chapter president of SNMA, the nation’s oldest and largest independent, student-run organization focused on “Diversifying the Face of Medicine,” I encouraged my peers and the administration to understand and construct solutions to eliminate health disparities. Extracting my experiences from programs and community events that focused on health disparities during my time at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I turned the words of SNMA’s motto into actions. It began with my vision to create a unique event, the Taste of ACOM, which has now become a much-anticipated annual event allowing students to appreciate the various cultures at ACOM as represented through amazing entrees and dishes. Additionally, having a passion for addressing challenges in younger populations, I encouraged my executive board to start a program, the Minority Association for Pre-Medical Students, that allowed ACOM students to share their pre-medical experiences and advice with minority pre-medical students at Troy University, in Troy, Alabama. This passion was also reflected during my time conducting research at Harvard Medical School, where I was invited to speak as a panelist to several underserved high school students interested in science and medicine. My primary wish as president was to better understand and ultimately address the needs of my local community.
As a result of my desire to engage and uplift the local community, I had the privilege of meeting, on several occasions, with a community organization to successfully set up a health fair in the most underserved region of Dothan, AL. During this health fair, we invited other student organizations, such as Family Medicine and the Student American Academy of Osteopathy, to provide much-needed services, including blood pressure checks, blood glucose checks, free clinic service referrals, and osteopathic manipulative medicine. This was a rewarding time as we—students together with our institution—built on the foundation of community service and fully engaged with our community.
Although I knew that my third year of medical school would be taxing, I never wavered in my desire to continue engaging my community. During my third year, I had the honor of becoming a nutritional assistant with Feeding the Gulf in Mobile, AL, an organization committed to providing food and education on healthy nutritional options to underserved, at-risk communities. Furthermore, I continued to use my excitement for community service by participating in—and currently serving as the course director for—the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Advocacy Scholars Program.
During my time as a student, I led a community project that focused on solutions to support respite care for the homeless, including women and children in Mobile, AL. As I complete my final year in medical school and look back on the days in Los Angeles when a career in medicine seemed like an impossibility, I continually count each experience as a blessing and I am grateful for every opportunity to give back what I’ve learned to my community. With the goal of a career in pediatrics, I hope to continue my passions for community service and mentoring, specifically to make a positive influence early in a child’s life. As a first-generation college graduate and the first in my immediate and extended family to pursue a career in medicine, it is my sincere hope to one day not only be the physician, but the mentor, who will help guide children and adolescents from communities similar to that in which I grew up. I seek to give back the blessings that I have acquired.
Written by Gerard Holder