Helping patients inspires student’s move from lab to frontline care in Florida

Emergency departments can be chaotic. Nurses and doctors moving seamlessly to meet patient needs, the wheels of gurneys rolling along hard floors, and monitoring equipment beeping to draw the attention of care providers. It was there that Fatima Islam discovered something was missing from her career.

Fatima was in a bustling downtown Atlanta emergency department initially for a much calmer purpose.  She was a bioengineering student at Georgia Tech looking for process changes that would improve care as part of a systems engineering class.

A desire to help people drew her to engineering, but amid the liveliness of the Emergency Department, she realized a life in the lab would never compete with direct patient care. "A lot of engineering is working with devices and tools that could help people," Fatima says. "I loved that, but it missed the interactions with people that you're helping."

Change of Direction

After that experience, Fatima started to pursue a career in medicine and began applying to medical schools.

She initially applied to Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine because of the opportunity to split her training between its campuses in Minnesota and Florida, completing her final two years close to her family in Georgia. This is a new option, with the first full class of medical students training in Florida graduating in 2022.

But it was the interview process that sold her on Mayo Clinic. "Everyone I interacted with was so amazing and kind," she says. "I saw that reflected in the other applicants too. It just seemed like a genuine place that fosters a real community."

Discovering Her Passion

Fatima says that community and small class sizes have resulted in many experiences and direct interactions with faculty that would not be possible most places. Those experiences included a session to learn more about orthopedic surgery, which left Fatima knowing exactly what she wanted to do in medicine.

One of Fatima's favorite hobbies is home renovation. She loves the challenge of intricately piecing together the right screw or nail with precisely cut materials to bring a creation to life. "I've always liked building things," she says. "Orthopedics is like carpentry, putting things back together and working with angles and cuts. It was just so great."

That trip to the Emergency Department that initially pulled Fatima into medicine also influenced her decision to specifically focus on orthopedic trauma medicine. These specialists care for patients with significant injuries to the musculoskeletal system, such as broken, fractured and dislocated bones. She recalls being especially intrigued by the trauma cases coming in, making orthopedic trauma medicine the perfect combination of the problem-solving she loves and the excitement she felt in the Emergency Department.

The Power of Scholarship

Fatima received scholarship support for medical school and credits it with helping her discover a career that aligns with her passions. She says, "It's really allowed me to figure out what I want to do and go for it.”

As she pursues that dream and begins the daunting process of applying for residency programs, one of the things that keeps her motivated is recalling handwritten notes full of gratitude and thanks from patients she never met. "I would see them posted in the offices of Mayo Clinic surgeons," she says. "I want to make that kind of impact in somebody's life.”

Mayo Clinic attracts exceptionally bright students like Fatima who are driven by the opportunity to use their passions to bring hope and healing to patients. Scholarships help fuel that desire and empower the next generation of physicians. Make a gift now to help students pursue their dream of a medical education.

Eds Note: The individual featured in images was following social distancing guidelines, and in compliance with Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 safety guidelines while unmasked.


Stories of Hope
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