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Recent Scholarship Recipients

School of Medicine Academic Scholarship

Award Recipient - Henaa Razzak

Henaa Razzak

I am greatly honored to receive the Academic Scholarship Award from St Matthew’s University School of Medicine. I am so grateful to St Matthew’s for giving me a chance to pursue my passion -- which is medicine. I have always wanted to become a physician and the roots are from helping in raising my younger sister who is autistic. She has shown me how to help and love people.

Starting at the age of eight, I played a significant role in my sister's life. I was a translator for my mother when she took my sister to her pediatrician, neurologist, speech therapist and occupational therapist. In addition, I attended her IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings from an early age to help my mother obtain the best resources for my sister. I would also do routine music therapy and sensory brushing for my sister every morning due to her sensitivity to noise and texture. I helped my sister for many years. Since my family were immigrants from Pakistan to the United States, I had to help my parents a great deal. Therefore, at a young age, I had a great deal of responsibility. My mother and father looked up to me for major decisions, especially regarding my sister.

Due to my role as a caregiver, I have had direct experience learning to have compassion for people with disabilities. I also learned to deal with a complex medical and health insurance system, which influenced me to obtain a Master in Public Health at the Mercer School of Medicine. I learned about disparities in health care, disease prevention and health promotion. I will be able to carry these concepts with me to be an effective and compassionate physician

While at Mercer, I completed an internship at the Emory Autism Center in which I conducted a research study about how IEPs (Individualized Education Program) differ between rural and urban areas in Georgia counties. These experiences have heightened my interest in learning to work with children with developmental disorders, and I am seriously considering specializing in pediatric neurology.

Next, I obtained a Master of Science in Neurosciences from the University of Hartford to learn more about developmental disorders and autism. While I was at the University of Hartford, I was also a lab instructor for the undergraduate biology and microbiology courses. This has proven rewarding because I enjoy helping students learn and grow. From my experiences I have learned to never give up on a goal no matter how hard it is. I believe that to become a great physician you need to have persistence and dedication. My hardships have made me strong and resilient, and I am passionate about pursing my dream of becoming a physician at St Matthew’s University School of Medicine.

Award Recipient - Alexandra Spirou

Alexandra Spirou

I am excited to be finishing my basic science curriculum in Grand Cayman and am very grateful to have received the Jha Family Scholarship. I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and have had numerous opportunities throughout my time in Windsor and Grand Cayman to take on many leadership roles. My strong work ethic, passion for medicine, and the curiosity and tenacity to challenge what I know has helped me grow as a person and hone my leadership skills. For as long as I can remember I have been a hard-working student and have always been eager to achieve my goals and dreams.

When I was in high school I volunteered at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital in their renal dialysis unit, cardiac care unit and outpatient care. While I was studying biological sciences at Wayne State University I had the chance to work as a student research assistant in the biochemistry department of Wayne State’s medical school. I also had the chance to be the female lead in a student film at Wayne State University and choreographed several productions at a local theater company.

Since I’ve been at St. Matthew’s University, I’ve explored many avenues to take on leadership roles as well as help my fellow students. I have been a member of SMU’s student government association (SGA) and have acted as a term 1 representative (Fall 2015), director of athletics (Winter 2016), secretary (Summer 2016), and SGA president (Fall 2016). I’ve also been chosen to participate in St. Matthew’s University’s “Research Day”. My research project was about novel treatments for type II diabetes mellitus and whether their side effects are worth the risks.

Since my second semester I’ve been a teaching assistant for Developmental and Gross Anatomy and Histology and Cell Biology. I’ve loved working with other students and helping them to have a better understanding of the vast amount of material they have to learn. I also participated in a Cayman Islands Health Fair, where I took blood pressures of local people to help them assess their risk of heart disease.

I’m so thankful for all the wonderful opportunities I’ve had at St. Matthew’s to learn, lead and grow as a student and as a person. Truly I believe I have the power to make a difference as a future physician, as do all students studying at St. Matthew’s University, and I will endeavor to continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

Award Recipient - Jessica Reed

Jessica Reed

Growing up in a rural, farming community in Michigan, I would never have imagined the opportunities that would present themselves to me. Attending the University of Miami allowed me to expand my horizons and embrace new and exciting challenges. Throughout my time in Miami, I volunteered in the Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at the Holtz Children's Hospital, became a Big Sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and was the top female rider for the University of Miami Wakeboard Team. On the side, in order to pay for my expenses not covered by scholarship, I also tutored and worked as a Co-supervisor for Student Patrol Aides. Balancing my time between my studies, volunteer activites, and work was challenging but necessary in order to steer my life in the direction I wanted it to go.

On two separate occasions, I traveled to Haiti and served as a volunteer for International Medical Relief on medical mission trips. My experiences on those trips changed my perspective on life and forever solidified my desire to study and practice medicine. Our team set up clinics in different areas and saw hundreds of very sick patients each day. The teamwork was incredible, even while working grueling 12-hour days outside in the intense heat and dusty, polluted air. After the first trip, I took Creole classes and was able to interact directly with the Haitian people. I learned that being a great physician is not only about successfully curing people of illnesses. A great physician is empathetic, knows his or her patients, knows their lifestyles, and tailors advice on how to lead healthy lifestyles to each patient. From the lessons and skills I will learn while attending St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine, I am determined to become a great physician and bring a respectable name to myself, my community, and my school.

Award Recipient - Jennifer Henson

While discovering who I was and what I was destined to become, I learned whatever I set my mind to, I can accomplish. I graduated from Texas A & M University in three and a half years with honors and a Bachelors of Science in Biology. While at Texas A & M, I assisted in a research lab which led to a manuscript in review at BMC Genetics on inducible molecular defenses, ultraviolet radiation, and melanomagenesis in natural hybrids. Knowing that the possibilities of my research could help mankind, I decided to take my endeavors one step further. After graduation, I traveled to Guadalajara, Jalisco to learn about medicine in the Mexican culture. After observing my first surgery and interacting with patients on a daily basis, I exposed my burning passion for medicine.

Once returning to the United States, I called doctors in my area to expand my knowledge. While observing and learning about more surgeries, these doctors became my very close mentors and showed me the many facets of medicine. I would get quizzed on a daily basis which was an exciting and rewarding pressure, yet I went home every day longing for more. It was then that I decided to focus on helping patients with autoimmune disorders. I spent a year and a half maintaining close contact with select patients and assisting with research that looked for a better treatment or cure.

I have learned that to be a doctor, one must appreciate the vast amount of knowledge available and have a desire to obtain every ounce of it. I am prepared to take on the challenge of becoming a doctor; nothing else would satisfy my urge to help, learn, listen, answer, and treat. I look forward to achieving my passion at St. Matthew’s University.

Award Recipient - Cristina Varzoaba

My family and I immigrated from Romania to the United States in November 1999. Coming to America opened the door to my passion of science. I graduated in one semester from Huron High School, and then I attended college at Eastern Michigan University, where I double majored in professional chemistry and physiology. I graduated in 2004 with honors, and as a member of the International Honors Society.

During my undergraduate years I was involved in various activities. As a consequence I did research for the last three years; two in cell molecular biology and one in organic chemistry, each year presenting a poster summarizing that year’s research at the annual Undergraduate Symposium. On top of the research, I enjoy interacting with people and therefore started my endeavor by working as a tutor/proctor for the Chemistry Department and later at the University of Michigan Hospital as a patient attendant at night. During my undergraduate years I also was the proud recipient of the following distinctions: Fred C. & Ford R. Bryan Scholarship Award, Meta Hellwig Undergraduate Research Fellowship Award, and Maurice Decoster Chemistry Scholarship.

At the end of my college years I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. As a result, I attended Texas Heart Institute School of Perfusion Technology to become a Clinical Perfusionist. After passing my boards I became a Certified Clinical Perfusionist. I started my career by joining the Lake Porter Cardiovascular perfusion team in August 2006. I’m still currently working for the group of seven physicians located in Northwestern Indiana. As a perfusionist I came in contact with physicians on a regular bases and it ignited my desire to become a physician myself.

Once again, I thank St. Matthew’s for making me a member of the School of Medicine, and one of the recipients of the academic scholarship.

Award Recipient - Marwa Elnazier

I was born and raised in Sudan, a country whose name dominates headlines because of the continuing Darfur conflict and seasonal flooding in different parts of the largest country in Africa. At the same time my home blessed me with rich culture and social values. My family lived on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. My parents believed in the value of education. Since early childhood, I learned that in order to be successful in life, I have to excel in school. Furthermore, living on the outskirts of the capital with the displaced families around us who were either fleeing from war-torn areas in Darfur and the south, drought in the far northwest, or the seasonal flooding of the Nile in the north, was in itself a great challenge and inspirational drive for me to try and make a difference in the lives of the people who were suffering around me.

My childhood in Sudan allowed me to experience the rural lifestyle in the vast Sudanese desert. As part of the female survival skills in such a demanding environment, I learned to be patient, diligent, and creative. I had to make everything form nothing. Before reaching my eleventh birthday, I was already a cook and caretaker for my siblings and extended family. When I was sent to school at age of seven, I sailed through primary school, excelling in mathematics, science, and English. I was so successful that the principal allowed me to skip the fourth grade.

Volunteering to work in the refugee camps around us was a great experience. My sister and her friends organized several health campaigns including vaccinations for the children and distributing food and medicine to the poor families. Endemic diseases like tuberculosis, Malaria, Typhoid and infectious diarrheas are common among refugees. Working among those displaced families sharpened my goals. Making a difference in the lives of those sick and hungry children through providing medical help was a way of life I wanted to pursue.

After graduating among the top of my class at Khartoum North Model High School, I applied and was accepted at Juba University. Juba is the capital city of southern Sudan. Because of the war in the south, the University was opened on temporary bases in Khartoum. Soon after the new school year began, political conflicts arose and because of the continued violence and disruptions, the University closed its doors for an unknown period of time. That is when I decided I have to pursue my educational goals outside Sudan.

Soon after I came to the United States, I joined Henry Ford Community College in Detroit, Michigan as a first step towards my goals. My diligent efforts earned me a placed in the dean’s List with a grade point average of 4.00 on a 4.00 grading scale for the 07/WI semester. I also received a congratulatory letter from the interim vice president commending me for an outstanding academic achievement in Henry Ford Community College. I then joined, University of Toledo and received my first scholarship (out of state award). While at the University of Toledo, I earned placement on the President’s Honor List and joined the Honor society of Phi Kappa Phi falling into the top 7.5 percent of University of Toledo

During my spare time, and in order to make a living, I worked at various retail stores like IKEA, Target and CVS. The opportunity also arose for me to volunteer and work at Dr. Ali’s Medical Practice. Working with Dr. Ali was a valued experience. It provided me with firsthand knowledge of how to organize charts and help elderly patients.

I have wasted no time since coming to this country in setting my goals and studying hard, while at the same time, working to earn a living and to support my family in Sudan. Through the help of my sister and myself, my younger brothers and sisters are now getting the education they need. Thank you all for the scholarship it is greatly appreciated. I will never forget where I came from. By working day and night, by succeeding in my studies, I am sure I will achieve my goals of studying medicine and be able to make a difference in my life and the lives of the members in my community and the world at large.

Award Reipient - Zoohra Mashriqi

My parents fled from the war in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s when I was one year old. Other families, who were unable to escape, were trapped in a time warp three decades behind the rest of the world. I grew up very cognizant of this fact, and seized all of the opportunities before me in order to reach my highest potential. My parents left their homeland for their children, and I vowed that I would not let their sacrifices go unnoticed.

I was raised in Flushing, New York a neighborhood with an overwhelming Afghan population, a majority of who are my relatives. There are over one hundred families in a two mile radius with the last name “Mashriqi,” consisting of my aunts, uncles, cousins, my parents’ cousins and so forth. My first cousins, Nazia Mashriqi and Ismatullah Mohmend, are also attending St. Matthew’s University with me so I feel that I will be taking a little bit of Afghanistan, and a little bit of Flushing with me to the Cayman Islands. In 2013, my cousins and I will graduate as the first three doctors in my family.

I am amazed when I think about how different I had imagined my future to be only one year ago. I began attending St. John’s University in 2005 in pursuit of a Physician Assistant Degree, from which I graduated on June 25, 2009 as Valedictorian with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Normally, a six year program, St. John’s offered a combined Bachelors of Science and PA certificate in four years for accelerated students. During my clinical year of PA school in 2008, I decided that I wanted to become a Physician because I realized that I cared too much about my patients, even as a student, to be dependent on another practitioner for medical judgment. While being a PA student, I learned the meaning of being a “team player” and the difference a healthcare practitioner can make through their compassion. These are the values I am grateful for and will fall back upon as a medical student, a resident, and when I reach my calling as an attending.

I close with a very fond memory I have of an attending I worked with during my pediatrics rotation. He explained to me the merit of being a physician despite the sleeplessness, the weariness, and the sacrifices he often had to make. He told me, “seeing an ill child walking out of the hospital with a smile on his/her face makes you step back and realize it will all be worth it.” I’ve learned from this and have become a branch of this healing tree. They say that physicians have the power of healing; the power of trust; and the power of delivery, all that unquestionably comes with great responsibility. I am fervently taking on this desired responsibility and am looking forward to the unpredictable, but familiar, paths that lie ahead.

Award Recipient - Jack Husni

My passion for medicine began as a young child. My visits to our family doctor meant more than just a check-up, rather it allowed me to spend time with my role-model. As I entered college as an undergraduate, my career choice had already been decided. I was convinced that the medical pathway was the right choice for me. However, at the same time, I realized this would be an excellent opportunity to focus on another interest of mine, economics. With a strong basis in economics, I am certain that it will assist me in my medical studies and practice.

One of the greatest experiences for me has been the time that I have spent volunteering at New York Community Hospital. Working in the Pharmacy Department, I was able to interact with doctors, nurses, pharmacists and most importantly with patients. It gave me a glimpse of just how crucial team work is in order to function successfully. While working there, I got the greatest satisfaction knowing that I was using my time and effort to help others. I am confident that that feeling will only grow as I become a physician, dedicating my life to helping others.

As I begin my medical studies, I feel the beginning of a lifetime of enjoyment and fulfillment. Wanting to pursue this path long ago, I am grateful that the opportunity to begin my medical studies has arrived. My hope is that I could use my compassion and care to improve the well-being of all the patients that I will take care of and make a difference in my community.

Award Recipient - Nancy Wilkins

As an undergraduate student majoring in Physiology at Southern Illinois University I was afforded the opportunity to take many upper level science classes with a strong focus on human anatomy and physiology. These courses allowed me to explore the intricate composition of our bodies through cadaver dissection and examine the role of each tissue and organ system in the functioning of the entire organism.

My realization of the vast amount of mystery in medical science sparked my interest in research. I have since been involved in multiple research projects including one in neuropsychology, biochemistry, physiology and neurology. After completing my undergraduate degree, I was invited to conduct my own research project for the Center of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders in central Illinois.

Being a part of others education was one of the most gratifying aspects of my undergraduate career. My junior year, I was hired as a biochemistry tutor for two student athletes who were struggling with the material. The following school year, I was appointed as the lab instructor for a survey of cadaver anatomy class, and subsequently was hired as an anatomy lab instructor for the Southern Illinois University Physician Assistant Program. Working in these positions strengthened and solidified my knowledge of anatomy, built upon my leadership skills, and allowed me to experience the tremendous responsibilities and joys of being an educator.

Throughout my undergraduate education I also had the opportunity to participate in multiple extracurricular activities that allowed me to explore the many different aspects of the medical profession. I obtained a more mature understanding of what a doctor does while volunteering at the emergency department at a local hospital, as well as serving at a health clinic for the underserved. At the emergency department I observed and listened closely as physicians applied the science that I learned in my textbooks to emergency medical situations, which could ultimately result in life or death. This intricate connection between knowledge and its application in saving a human life became enormously intriguing to me.

My experience at the health clinic presented me with the selfless and humanistic side of medicine. The volunteer physicians whom I had the opportunity to shadow and work with often come to the clinic directly after a long day at work, sacrificing their valuable time and expertise to help those who couldn't otherwise afford such treatment. Yet although they are working for free, in the little spare time they can find, they never failed to demonstrate the highest degree of caring and compassion when interacting with each patient. This observation has allowed me to appreciate the importance of a physician’s role as a medical healer as well as a counselor, and helped me to build an image of the physician I aspire to become.

Award Recipient - Tom Ruffin

I graduated from Florida State University in the Fall of 2008 with a major in Finance and a minor in Chemistry. When I entered college, I hoped to enter the world of finance. My sophomore year, I was invited to participate in a summer internship. Though I was grateful for the dynamic work experience, I was left intellectually and psychologically unfulfilled by the impersonal and routine nature of the job. I could not help but recall and reflect upon earlier conversations with physicians in my family. They would talk in great lengths about the personal appreciation and interest they had for medicine. These statements focused my attention back towards medicine, a field I had otherwise overlooked.

As a result of my newfound curiosity, I began to volunteer at the cardiac clinic for Children's Medical Services in Tallahassee, Florida as a means to further my understanding of the medical community. As an active volunteer, my responsibility had an impact on patients' daily lives. I developed a relationship with patients and an enthusiasm for the hospital. During the summers in undergraduate school, I shadowed Psychiatrists, Oncologists, and Endocrinologists with Shands Hospital at the University of Florida and experienced the honesty, helpfulness and reassurance which accompanies communicating a diagnosis. I also spent time in the operating room at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor shadowing a vascular surgeon. My experience in the vascular surgery O.R. gave me the opportunity to examine the endurance and dedication that are demanded of a physician. These skills and the knowledge I acquired through these experiences fulfilled my intellectual curiosity, and intensified my dedication towards joining the medical profession.

My objective to pursue finance was interrupted by a change of aspiration and a lack of fulfillment. In all of my environments, I have been able to distinguish an immense satisfaction by helping others. It was through the operating room and Children's Medical Services that I recognized my fervor for personal interaction with patients and my desire to care for someone's personal health. It was these experiences that inspired me to face the challenges in achieving the honor of becoming a medical doctor.

Award Recipient - Anna Tzonkov

My name is Anna Tzonkov. I was born and raised in Bulgaria a small country in South -Eastern Europe. I came to the United States at age 20. I did my undergraduaate studies at Loyola University Chicago. I was awarded with an academic scholarship and graduated with Magna Cum Laude in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. My name remained on the National Dean's List during that period of time.

At the university I was invloved in many different activities but I knew that my purpose was to serve those who need help. With the assistance of few professors, I and three other students established the GlobeMed Chapter at Loyola University. An organization for college students trying to improve global health in vulnerable communities around the world. Our last project was focused on a clinic in Guatemala where we sent students on a volunteer mission.

For the past two years I shadowed a neurologist at Resurrection Hospital in Chicago. I had the opportunity to learn a lot about different neurological disorders, complicated clinical issues in human anatomy and genetics. At the same time I also volunteered as a triager at Community Health - a small volunteer based clinic which provides care for people who could not afford healthcare.

I believe that medicine is a lot more than just resolving complicated science puzzles, diagnosing and providing the right treatment for the patient. Most importantly, I have come to understand that behind each patient there is an individual, a person who needs help. And my mission is to learn how to better understand my future patients and people from different backgrounds and prospectives on life so I can fully serve them in the honorable profession of medicine.