Taj Taher, M.D. class of 2021, Vice President, OHSU SNMA
It’s been a month since our crew from Oregon Health & Science University visited San Francisco for the Annual Medical Education Conference (AMEC), but the memories of those few days are still fresh in our minds. As the largest gathering of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) – the nation’s oldest medical student organization for minority students with the mission of expanding the number of medical students from underrepresented populations – the sheer exhilaration of AMEC continues to pump in our veins. It’s a feeling I initially found reminiscent of that rush when seeing Black Panther for the first time; I’ll admit, it may have had something to do with the several regional “chants” at the Closing Banquet that turned out to be live performances of the film, or that everyone – including the older, esteemed physicians giving lectures – would throw up “Wakanda Forever” signs constantly.
Although we’d been told by older students that AMEC would be the definitive experience of our 1st years, we didn’t quite believe them because we didn’t know what to expect. How could we have known that some of us would come away with incredible mentors eager to take us under their wing and make specializing in our area of interest less of a pipe dream and more of a bright light at the end of the med school tunnel? How could we have imagined that not only would we be exposed to topics ranging from advocacy and health policy to nutrition and business, but that our fundamental perceptions of those topics would be shaken or changed? How could we have believed that for four days, we would find a second home among brothers and sisters from all over the nation?
This sense of community was the most impactful experience of the conference, and one that has reinvigorated our local chapter to push for the mission of SNMA harder than we ever have. While OHSU is a loving and welcoming community, I’ll never forget walking into class on the first day of school because my mind immediately went “Wow, that’s a lot of white people.”
That initial sight was so shocking that I felt like I’d been sucker-punched in the stomach, and the pit it left behind had never really been filled in.
That is, not until I walked into the enormous hall for the Opening Ceremony at AMEC to find myself amongst hundreds and hundreds of people – fellow med students, undergraduates, physicians and community leaders – that I felt a kinship to. Throughout the conference, as I made new friends that I got to learn from and be inspired by (maybe even party with…) I felt that hollowness in my stomach actually overflow with joy.
If AMEC serves any purpose, it is to give us a glimpse of a bright future should our organization’s mission fully unfold. Even though I joined SNMA at the beginning of the year because I believed in the mission, my connection to it felt vague or general. After going to AMEC however, and seeing firsthand the awe-inspiring scope of that mission in action, I now understand and feel our mission on a level deep to my bones. The communal joy and pride I saw at AMEC was nothing short of beautiful, and it’s only right that that sentiment be felt by us all every single day in healthcare – not just for a few days each year.
A month after the conference, our crew is going to visit Roosevelt High School for a Healthcare Fair, the first in a line of events that we have organized since our return. I’m sure that compared to the start of the year, we are going to be a hundredfold more engaging, optimistic, and encouraging than before because when we see those kids, it won’t be beyond our imaginations to envision that they’ll be at AMEC in a couple years or wearing white coats in a couple more. As far as imagination is concerned, Wakanda may be fiction, but that our community and our mission is stronger than vibranium is a pure fact.
About the Author
I’m a first-year medical student. I grew up in Pendleton, Oregon, and went to high school in Beaverton. I studied English Literature at the University of Washington and taught 5th grade for a year in Seattle’s diverse 98118 area prior to matriculating at OHSU and taking on the role of SNMA Vice President.
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