Student Volunteer Honored with AAMC Scholarship
|(L to R) Dr. Carol Aschenbrener, AAMC executive vice president, and Tamika Smith|
From teaching low-income housing residents in Chicago how to eat healthier to treating underprivileged patients in the mountains of rural Jamaica, third-year Feinberg student Tamika E. Smith has spent the last five years on a good-will mission. She shows no signs of letting up.
That do-it-all, do-it-well philosophy earned her the 2008 Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship, a $5,000 Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) award given to outstanding third-year medical students who have demonstrated leadership in addressing the educational, societal, and health care needs of minorities.
As a Northwestern undergraduate, Smith founded HALO, the HIV/AIDS Literary Organization. The group helps to increase AIDS awareness and provide volunteers to HIV/AIDS agencies in Evanston and Chicago.
She graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern and moved on to medical school where she carved out the time to establish a free health clinic in Jamaica, mentor young teens through the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), and teach healthy eating habits to minority residents in a housing development as a volunteer for Chicago Cares, Inc.
Her inspiration, she says, comes from her parents, her Christian upbringing, and a simple premise: “I just feel like you have to get your hands dirty,” says Smith. “If you see a problem, do something, small or large, to fix it.”
She says it helps that she’s a time management fanatic. She puts 100 percent into whatever she’s doing at the moment to ensure that the job gets done. “I consolidate my energy,” says Smith, who also finds time for her husband and their eleven-week-old baby girl.
Smith was particularly impressive when she worked with minority high schoolers as a first- and second-year medical student through the SNMA’s Health Professions Recruitment Exposure Program, said Sunny Gibson, director of the Office of Minority and Cultural Affairs at the Feinberg School. The program works to get Chicago teens excited about science and the medical profession.
“She really related to the students and she represented where they want to be someday,” said Gibson. “Tamika did a phenomenal job organizing the program. A lot of people talk about ideas and vision, but she makes it happen. Not everyone has that ability to follow through.”
Smith was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved to Miami when she was just four. The desperate need for health care in the mountains of Jamaica inspired her to establish the Blue Mountain Project in the rural town of Hagley Gap. Medical students from the Feinberg School, as well as medical students from other states and countries, now take week-long trips to provide much needed, free primary care to hundreds of people living near the coffee fields of Jamaica.
Smith, who gets there twice a year, says the care has focused on patients with hypertension, diabetes, and infectious diseases as well as the victims of child and domestic abuse. She says it’s clear there is a need for additional services. “We hope to offer wound repair and maternity care in the future.”
Smith isn’t sure what branch of medicine she will choose, but she thinks it will probably be in the primary care field, either as a family physician or pediatrician. “I think that will be a good fit, given my interest in empowering patients, creating strong doctor-patient relationships, continuity of care, and education.”