Master's Students Describe Their Career Aspirations
As a child, Aya Awwad, a Palestinian with an Israeli citizenship who grew up in Tamra, Israel, had a love-hate relationship with the small bookstore her parents owned. “I borrowed the books,” she says, “but I had to help out in the shop to get the other things they sold, like toys. As a third grader, that was annoying, but it taught me you need to work to achieve things.”
She was introduced to medicine in seventh or eighth grade through both the school for gifted children she attended and the NIR School of the Heart, an experiential program that brings together students from several Middle Eastern countries to learn about the systems of the body, especially the cardiovascular system, and about one another’s traditions and beliefs.
“I found medicine fascinating early on because it’s not an exact science,” Awwad says. “The clinical presentation of the patients can vary, but through that uncertainty we try to find a way to lead our decision-making, so it’s an art as well.”
After high school she got her MD from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. In her sixth year she spent a month at Brown University studying infectious disease. “That was my first exposure to medicine outside of Israel,” she says. She found learning in another culture exciting. “Working and talking with people with different backgrounds, perceptions, and approaches to things increases your understanding and tolerance. You realize how big the world is and become more open.”
When she returned to Israel she started searching for a way to continue her studies abroad, and discovered the master of medical sciences in clinical investigation program at HMS. “I want to be a clinician and do research,” she says, “and back home, medicine is structured around clinical work, so I need to develop the skills that will allow me to dedicate time to both.”
A Fulbright scholarship helped her come back to New England, where she joined the lab of Sahir Kalim, an assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. There, she’s conducting translational research in chronic and end-stage kidney disease, studying the mechanisms that underpin the morbidity and mortality seen in patients with the disease, and finding new biomarkers and possible therapeutic interventions.
For her next steps, Awwad recognizes that “nothing is guaranteed,” but she is optimistic, in part because Kalim and her other colleagues in the lab have been so supportive. “Even though I’m just starting they have been a great help to me, improving my research skills and pushing me forward to increase my curiosity.”
She admits she has missed clinical work, though. It’s one reason she joined the Master’s Student Council. “I like to work with people,” she says. “The council gives me a way to positively affect the social life of students in the University and sharpens my skills for creating a community wherever I am.”
Michael Elnemais Fawzy
Michael Elnemais Fawzy believes everyone’s life has many turning points. His first one came when, as a child, he discovered Aragoz, the hand puppet character traditional in his native Egypt. He became so enthralled that he joined his neighborhood puppet theater, doing everything from working the stage door to scriptwriting. “I started asking why some people are the good guys of the story and some are the bad guys,” he says. “I realized if we help people, we will decrease the number of bad guys.”
Another turning point in his early life arose when he saw the movie The Street Player, about a talented Egyptian football player who, in the final scene, says “I will play with the losers” — a reference, says Elnemais Fawzy, to “people who have lost their way.” A third critical moment was when one of his fellow students dropped out of medical school. “She was talented,” he says, “but no one paid attention to her problems.”
These and other influences led him to study medicine, specifically psychiatry. “I love to hear people’s stories,” he says, “and doctors can change people’s lives.” His focus on mental health eventually led him to human rights, and once he began to “combine all the pieces of my puzzle,” he started the Taqet Amal Foundation. Founded in 2014, it works with medically underserved Egyptians who are at high risk for mental illness. The foundation helps them adapt to adverse circumstances by improving their resilience and psychological well-being. Early on, the group worked with children, partly through puppet theater, but it has since expanded to reach more than 12,000 people in eight governorates.
In 2016 Elnemais Fawzy spent a month at Boston Children’s Hospital to “see how mental health services for children were built. Research is needed to explore Egypt’s national health system and to study human rights in psychiatry,” he says.
A student in the master of medical sciences in clinical investigation program at HMS, Elnemais Fawzy is also on the Master’s Student Council. He says his work with the Council is just another way for him to help others find their voice. “American culture is based on diversity,” he says, “but some international students may feel they are not represented enough.”
Elnemais Fawzy, who will graduate in May, is now serving as a consultant psychiatrist at Al-Abbassia Mental Health Hospital in Cairo. “My ultimate dream is to start a program for young researchers in Egypt,” he says, “so they can create collaborations between low-income countries in Africa. If we empower clinical researchers there, we can open a small window for hope.”
Elizabeth Gehrman is a writer based in Boston.
Images: John Soares