2nd Annual Meharry-Stanford Initiative Brings Six Meharry Students to Stanford

Meharry students and Stanford faculty mentors

Six students from Meharry Medical College in Tennessee spent the summer at Stanford as part of the second annual Meharry-Stanford Initiative.

Meharry Medical College in Tennessee has a simple mission: to “offer a unique, quality, health science education to students of diverse origins, especially African Americans, with emphasis on addressing underserved populations.”  The students, then, have service in mind when they decide to apply for the Meharry-Stanford initiative, which brings Meharry students to the Stanford campus during the summer to work on research projects and allow Stanford to transform their lives the way it transformed the life of Abraham Verghese, MD, the Linda Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial professor of medicine, one of the founders of the program.

And the Meharry students have been transformed.  “’Anything is possible’ is a phrase that I’ve heard countless times, and the people that I have met at Stanford embody that phrase,” Edna Idan says.  Marcus Simmons adds, “Everyone that I have met at Stanford thus far has encouraged me to accelerate toward my goals.”  Mindy Huynh says that her time here has “reinvigorated my interest in academic medicine” and describes herself as “so in love” with her experience in the lab of Vinicio de Jesus Perez, MD, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine.

The students were also grateful for their one-on-one meetings with Stanford faculty, including Wendy Caceres, MD, clinical assistant professor of primary care and population health, and Kelley Skeff, MD, George Deforest Barnett professor of medicine. Andrew Hermina says that his time at Stanford “inspired me to pursue a year of research as part of my medical school experience, which I truly believe will add incredible value to my education, animating many of the topics which we only briefly mention in class.”

As Mindy puts it, “I know I am going to miss being in northern California, visiting San Francisco and other favorite cities, and enjoying the cool breeze, fresh faces, and inspirational minds of Silicon Valley and the Bay.”

Here are the stories of three of those Meharry students: Elliott Winford, Edna Idan, and George Asham.

Elliott Winford

"My time here has been unbelievably beneficial for my upcoming physicianship.”

Elliott visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Elliott Winford, a rising second year at Meharry, has been interested in medicine from a very young age.  “I’ve always had a love for science,” he says.  “It’s human nature to be inquisitive, to question and seek to understand more deeply one’s environment. Science gave me the opportunity to do just that - to explore why the world was as it appeared.”  His interest in medicine in particular was cemented by tragedy.  When he was nine years old, he lost his father to CVA, and made practicing medicine his goal.  Ten years later, he lost his mother to leiomyosarcoma.  She had become a family nurse practitioner but never got the chance to practice due to her illness. “While I’d wanted to be a doctor long before losing her, I now view practicing medicine as carrying the mantle that she wasn't afforded the opportunity to,” Elliott explains.  He’s interested in becoming a neurosurgeon.

He ended up at Meharry largely because of the school’s emphasis on giving to those in need.  As he put it, “I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, an area utterly ravaged by poverty. Meharry’s willingness to fight on the behalf of those in need made my decision to attend an easy one.”

At Stanford, he’s studied under Marina Martin, MD, MPH, clinical assistant professor of primary care and population health, and Kristan Staudenmayer, MD, MS, FACS, associate professor of surgery, working on research comparing outcomes experienced by older (≥65 years) traumatic brain injury and stroke patients.  Elliott is highly enthusiastic about all that he’s learned from this work, ranging from the use of the statistical software STATA to the process of developing an experiment to the importance of treating each patient as unique, particularly when working in geriatrics.  But he also learned a great deal about collaboration.  “I’ve learned what a functional team really looks like - each member pushing aside their individual prides and biases to promote a more holistically functioning unit,” he says. “Each member is impressive in their own right, they’ve all amassed tons of clinical experience, but no one functions in isolation. They’re genuinely happy to be in one another’s company.  I was so pleased to witness it firsthand.”

He also managed to have some fun in the Bay Area this summer—he played laser tag for the first time in years, and concluded, “While I had an absolute blast, I’ve realized my aim is horrid and needs to be improved if I want to be a surgeon.”

He plans to emphasize the same team-based focus he witnessed in the geriatric department when he returns to Meharry, where he’ll serve as president of the Student Interest Group in Neurology.  “My time here has been unbelievably beneficial for my upcoming physicianship,” he concludes.

Edna Idan

"Hearing Stanford faculty share their life stories and lessons that they’ve learned along the way has been inspiring.”

Edna visiting the Golden Gate Bridge

Edna Idan wants a career in academic medicine that will "allow me the opportunity to be a clinician, a researcher, and an educator.”  A second year at Meharry, Edna’s love of science, combined with her love of working with people, set her on the medical path.  She, too, was drawn to Meharry’s mission to “serve the underserved,” which she discovered as an undergraduate through an organization she was involved in called the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students.

She describes her Stanford experience as “incredible,” citing her exposure to new ideas. 
“My previous research experience was in biochemistry, and the research that I am doing now involves biostatistics, so it’s quite the contrast,” she explains.  She worked with Marcella Alsan, MD, associate professor of primary care and outcomes research, and her Oakland Men’s Health Disparities Project, which studies correlates of medical mistrust among African American men living in the East Bay.

Edna says she’s learned a great deal about research, including a new statistical analysis program and a deeper knowledge of biostatistics and data interpretation.  As she explains, “I’m also writing a paper on my research findings, and this will be my first paper as a primary author.”  The literature reviews involved in the paper have helped her gain “a greater appreciation of the racial health disparities that exist in the U.S.  Because of this, she adds, “My passion for serving the underserved has intensified.”  Edna also attended weekly meetings with Stanford faculty, and says that “hearing them share their life stories and lessons that they’ve learned along the way has been inspiring.”

Edna also got a chance to travel during her time at Stanford.  “I try to do tourist activities every weekend,” she says, and she’s done a lot, touring San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles, as well as Big Sur, Yosemite, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

And Edna plans to pass on all that she’s learned.  She wants to continue researching racial health disparities, and become a peer tutor in biostatistics. As if this weren’t enough, she adds, “Additionally, I plan to be more intentional with my mentorship program, App Coach Services, by encouraging more minorities to pursue a career in medicine.”

George Asham

"Getting to learn about different clinical vignettes from attendings and chief residents made this a very rich experience full of learning opportunities."

George traveled to Yosemite

For George Asham, medicine is a family business.  He grew up in Egypt with a physician father, which gave him “an inside view into how he treated the profession as a privilege and a chance to improve his patients' quality of life.”  George adds, “Watching him try his best to mitigate the health disparities there, whether by providing reduced-cost care or going on missions to under resourced areas, really inspired me as a child.”  George also gained a love of science, of the human body and all its parts.  When he moved to the U.S. at fourteen, the linguistic and cultural differences seemed insurmountable, but he persevered and now feels that “anything, no matter how hard and far it seems, is still possible with determination and hard work.”

As a rising second year at Meharry, George hopes to focus on neurosurgery, and he, too, was attracted to Meharry’s mission.  “Meharry is a school that calls for diversity and its goal is to provide medicine to students and patient populations of disadvantaged backgrounds,” he explains, calling it a “perfect fit” for his ongoing medical education.

At Stanford he spent the summer in the lab of Jonathan Maltzman, MD, associate professor of nephrology, “studying Cytomegalovirus reactivation in solid organ transplant recipients.” He relished the opportunity to work in the lab, and in particular the level of independence he was granted.  Maltzman’s team took “a significant amount of time” training him on the laboratory basics in the first week, and then left him to “carry most of the experiments out on my own and learn from my mistakes as I gained more experience.”  At first, George says, the experience was daunting, but with the support and guidance he received he grew more and more confident.  “Even though I spent a huge part of my undergraduate career in biomedical labs doing research,” George says, “I felt like I have not had the chance to be fully independent and learn as much as I learned in Dr. Maltzman's lab.” He plans to keep in touch with Maltzman and maybe even continue to help with research, and also hopes to get involved in neurosurgery research back at Meharry.

He was also grateful for his time spent with the Stanford 25 program and attending grand rounds.  “Getting to learn about different clinical vignettes from attendings and chief residents made this a very rich experience full of learning opportunities,” George explains.

An avid photographer, George traveled all around to take pictures, from the hills of San Francisco to Half Dome at Yosemite and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.  He also managed to watch most of the World Cup from various bars in Palo Alto, and he caught a Giants game with his fellow Meharrians.   All in all, he says, he “really enjoyed” his time at Stanford this summer.