Meharry Students Come to Stanford for 3rd Annual Meharry-Stanford Initiative

Some of the Meharry students with Abraham Verghese, MD, and Talia Ochoa

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

For the third time in three years, this summer brought special visitors to Stanford: six medical students at Meharry Medical College in Tennessee made their way across the country to participate in the Meharry-Stanford Initiative. 

The initiative, which was designed to expose Meharry students to current research at Stanford and encourage connection between the two institutions, kept the students busy, working on research projects with Stanford Medicine faculty and immersing themselves in Stanford Medicine culture.

This year brought six new faces: Bertrand Ebunji, Vanessa Dlamini, Nisha Hodge, Paris Price, Bola Soliman, and Karla Tytus.

Here are a few of their stories.

Vanessa Dlamini

"I met some amazing people during my time at Stanford."

Vanessa Dlamini shows her Stanford pride

Vanessa Dlamini inherited her desire for a medical career: as she puts it, “I think my mother knew I wanted to become a physician before I did.”  As a child Dlamini loved the sciences but she concludes, “I think what drew me to medicine was the lack of a proper healthcare system in my home country. This desire increased even more in undergrad when I came to the United States at 16 and saw the healthcare system here. It’s not perfect but it works, and I want to change the face of healthcare back home.”

She’s unsure what specialty she’ll land on, but as a rising second year medical student she has interest in anesthesiology, internal medicine, and general surgery.  She chose Meharry because it was closer to her family and fulfilled her desire to attend an HBCU.

At Stanford she worked with Linda Nguyen, MD, clinical associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology, on virtual reality and its effect on chronic abdominal pain patients.  “It was a fulfilling experience and I learned a lot from Dr. Nguyen,” Dlamini explains. “I also learned that it is okay to ask questions and people are mostly happy and never too busy to help you out. It’s like the saying, ‘Closed mouths don’t get fed.’”  She plans to collaborate with the VR team once she returns to Meharry to explore “new aspects of VR and how it can help in other areas of clinical medicine.”

Dlamini enjoyed her time at Stanford. “I met some amazing people,” she says, “especially the family I stayed with. They were instrumental in making my stay in California enjoyable.”  Like her Meharry colleagues she enjoyed the tours of Google, as well as the cook outs and a mini tour of Campbell, CA.  She also test-drove a Tesla, her “dream car,” and watched a San Jose production of Mamma Mia!  “It was just like the movie,” she says, “from the singing to the energy on the stage to the choreography. It was my most memorable experience in California.”

Bertrand Ebunji

"My time at Stanford was very enriching and empowering."

Bertrand in San Francisco

Bertrand Ebunji’s desire to pursue medicine is “deeply rooted” in his background.  He grew up in Cameroon in West Africa, where “famine, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, malaria, poverty, and poor health care are common facts of life.”  He adds, “The healthcare system is so bad in Cameroon that a common cold could easily become a fatal infection.  People there (including myself) myself rely on family members and local untrained general practitioners for aid. This has imprinted on me not only a responsibility towards my family members, but also a sense of community service. I have learned that in order to live a truly fulfilling life, we must strive to give our best in our communities to our fullest ability.   I think the only way to effectively do so is by becoming a physician who will provide medical care to the underserved and everyone in need.”

He chose Meharry because of its “mission and vision, which is to train physicians with interest of serving the underserved and to do while serving God’s purpose.”  He initially thought he wanted to study internal medicine with emphasis on oncology and infectious diseases, but as a rising second year, he’s considering other fields, “including but not limited to general surgery, pathology and orthopedics.”

At Stanford this summer he worked with Niaz Banaei, MD, professor of pathology and infectious diseases and Catherine Hogan, MD, on a project that “aimed to test the usefulness of novel technologies like VITEK, an instrument used in the microbiology lab at Stanford to test for the best antibiotic for a given bacteria.”  And with his work Ebunji also learned the basics of clinical research, everything from research design and procedures to formatting a proposal to protocols on handling specimens in a lab.  “I was fortunate to observe the day-to-day processes in a microbiology lab,” he states.

And of course he was busy with other things, too.  Ebunji toured Google and Facebook along with his Meharry cohort, and also made time for sightseeing outside of work.  As he puts it, “I made sure to check some of the ‘must visit places in the bay’ off my list,” including Yosemite Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Mission, and Chinatown.

He found his time at Stanford “very enriching and empowering,” adding that, “I believe I was very fortunate to have participated in this program, and I also believe this program is a great platform to expose medical students to clinical research.”  And as he concludes, " I personally am so very grateful for are the meet-and-greets with some physicians at Stanford, who shared their stories of becoming the great physicians and researchers. Their stories were nothing short of inspiring and motivating.”

Bola Soliman

"This experience definitely helped me grow both socially and intellectually."

Bola on the Golden Gate Bridge

Bola Soliman is a rising second year medical student with an interest in anesthesiology and internal medicine (although he says he’s still open-minded about specialties).  He came into his interest in medicine through volunteer work at a small family clinic in Nashville that catered to underserved and uninsured patients, where he translated for Arabic-speaking patients.  “Just being in the room with the doctor and the patient and communicating with both parties, I felt like I was bridging a big gap,” he explains.  “I learned a lot during and I felt like I wanted to be more than just the interpreter. There is a great need for doctors now, and there are a lot more people that are uninsured and that have no access to adequate healthcare. I want to become a physician to try and fill that need.”

He chose to study at Meharry because “our values aligned. Their mission is to serve God through service to mankind and that resonated with me. I grew up in the Coptic Church and service was something that was instilled in me from a very young age. Also, Meharry’s emphasis on serving the underserved made it the perfect fit for me to receive my medical education.”

This summer at Stanford he worked under the mentorship of Aida Habtezion, MD, MsC, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology in her GI lab.  Soliman also worked alongside Murli Manohar, PhD, and Elaina Jones, PhD, two postdocs in the lab, studying the role of immune cells in acute pancreatitis progression and recovery.  He calls the experience “very rewarding,” adding that he gained a lot of hands-on experience with research techniques and equipment handling.  He also found the overall Stanford experience valuable, since it taught him independence and pushed him “out of his comfort zone” where he was able to “build relationships with a lot of great people that are willing to be there for me along the way.”  It also gave him a growing interest in medical research, which he plans to pursue along with his other studies.

It wasn’t all hard work, though—Soliman still managed to hit a lot of Bay Area sights, including the Golden Gate bridge, Santa Cruz beach, Pier 39 at San Francisco, Big Sur, downtown San Jose downtown, and the Great America theme park, as well as tours of Facebook and Waymo.   And Soliman is grateful for the opportunity: as he puts it, “This experience definitely helped me grow both socially and intellectually. It allowed me to fine tune my critical thinking skills and that’s something that will be of great use for me in my career.”