Natural Leader Passionate for Patient Care; Grateful Scholarship Supported Her Dreams
Learn more about Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, the power for scholarships and inspiring by watching “Inspiring the Future Leaders of Health Care,” an inside look at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.
Shannon T.N. Coombs has faced her share of adversity well before this year. So, managing — and thriving as a medical student — through a global pandemic is just another step toward her ultimate goal.
In her third year at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, Shannon made a cross-country move from Arizona to Florida to take part in a new opportunity that has exceeded her expectations. Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine offers students the experience of spending their first two years of school in either Minnesota or Arizona before finishing their final two years at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
"I knew Mayo would give me the education that I wanted," Shannon says. "I wanted to train in a place where I could learn from and care for people of color, and I’ve already had a lot of opportunities to do that here in Florida.”
An Obvious Choice
The opportunity to learn at such a tight-knit medical school was the reason Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine was Shannon’s top choice. During her applicant interview, she noted that many of the faculty and administrators had spent decades working at Mayo Clinic.
"I thought, What kind of place is this, where everyone stays 20 or 30 years and is happy?" Shannon says. She added she was especially attracted to the smaller class sizes, particularly for the Florida component of her education, which seats 12 students each year.
Making Ends Meet
When she received her acceptance letter, she was excited, but it wasn’t the start of her medical school journey.
"I don’t come from a family with the means to help me out with my expenses for my education," she says. "So I knew it would have to come down to my financial aid package, and I had many sleepless nights worrying about that."
Shannon could rest better a short time later when Mayo Clinic notified her that she would receive a scholarship.
"It just meant everything to me," Shannon says. "The scholarship gave me the means to attend medical school, and it was an expression that Mayo saw something in me — that they wanted me to be here. It was incredibly validating, and I’m so grateful."
Growing and Thriving
Since entering the school, Shannon has impressed her fellow students and organizations that interact with Mayo Clinic.
While at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona, Shannon served as the community service chair of the American Medical Women’s Association, a professional advocacy and educational organization of women physicians and medical students.
Shannon led a collaboration with a local nonprofit, Arizona State University and her fellow students to deliver a health education fair and holiday event for victims of sex trafficking.
Now at Mayo Clinic in Florida, she is the class representative for all third-year medical students at the campus. She has also helped start a chapter of the Student National Medical Association, which is the nation's oldest and largest student-run organization focused on the needs and concerns of medical students of color. The organization also focuses on building a culturally sensitive and socially conscious physician workforce.
For Mary S. Hedges, M.D., associate dean of student affairs at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine – Florida Campus, it is no surprise that Shannon has taken on all of these responsibilities.
"Shannon is a natural leader," Dr. Hedges says. "She embodies our Mayo Clinic values, and she is a wonderful example of how our education programs and scholarships help us recruit top talent."
Resiliency and Compassion
For Shannon, her path to medical school and leadership is yet another sign of her resiliency.
Both her parents, who are Jamaican immigrants, have battled serious health conditions. In high school, Shannon served as the primary caregiver for her mother while she received treatment for breast cancer.
Despite all of the previous adversity in Shannon's life, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new mix of unique challenges and poignant moments, she says.
"It’s been difficult because we’re all wearing masks, and it’s harder to connect with people," she says. "I’ve also seen the psychological toll it’s taking on the community, which is heartbreaking."
The Road Ahead
Shannon recognizes there will be more challenges ahead following medical school and throughout the rest of the pandemic. The scientist and researcher in her tells her that she can’t know for sure if the most recent year will make her a better physician, but she says it has tested her mettle, and that may have benefits down the road.
"The experience has made me dig deep and made me and my classmates more durable," Shannon says. "I think as a class we’ve all banded together and developed a little more grit."
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