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"During rough times in school, I would ask myself: Why do you want to be a doctor?"
It's Who You Are, Not Where You're From

"I'm blessed to have people in my life who believed in me," says fourth-year medical student Sharonda Alston, right, pictured with her mother, Elaine Rease, who's studying Web design at UMBC. "Even though my parents were young-my dad was 16-they've always been my biggest cheerleaders. They never put pressure on me to be a doctor (Rease says they knew when Alston was 2 that's what she'd be), but they did expect me to do my homework and pay attention in class. My mom told me, In school, you're there to learn. It is a struggle to achieve, but opportunities come in random places, and you have to see the opportunities, not the obstacles. I'm so in awe of what God has done with my life so far. I'm not just getting a degree. I'm getting a degree from Hopkins. I hope that, because I'm not the stereotype, maybe people won't stereotype the next person."

Sharonda Alston wrote the following personal statement to accompany her application to medical school. This May, she graduates with The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine class of 2002 and in July reports to Sinai Hospital of Baltimore to begin her residency in pediatrics. We thought her story deserved a wider audience.

People tend to doubt you when they don't know you. This has been my case from the time I was born to a 13-year-old in a Baltimore ghetto.

According to "social theorists," I should be addicted to drugs, have three children and be unemployed living in public housing. In some cases, these stereotypes hold true; for myself, these stereotypes have given me added incentive to work hard and achieve.

The many obstacles that my family and I have had to endure cannot be dismissed. My mother gave up pursuit of her own education to work minimum-wage jobs in order to provide for my brother and me. Often we were forced to live with friends and family and, yes, at times we were welfare recipients. My early life was that of a nomad, moving about every two years to escape the drugs and violence. I cannot forget the gunshots ringing out and many of the neighborhood kids running into my house and lying on the floor to escape the bullets, or the time my mother opened the front door to find a victim of drug-related violence bleeding to death on our front steps. Fortunately, opportunity knocked and I threw the door open.

One of those opportunities was the birth of my younger brother when I was 11 years old. As a result, my life changed. I was bombarded with the responsibility of raising him while my mom worked two jobs. It was a difficult task, as he was a rather sick child. One of his most memorable illnesses was his inguinal hernia. Witnessing his intestines fill his scrotum and the resulting pain would ever change the goals of my young life. I wanted to be a doctor to first understand what was ailing my brother and secondly to stop other children from hurting the way my younger brother did.

Those desires led me to volunteer work starting in high school. The activity that influenced me the most was volunteering in Child Life at University Hospital in Baltimore. Even though I watched one of my dearest patients, a 7-year-old girl, succumb to AIDS, it was so rewarding to see a suffering child smile when I walked into his or her room.

During rough times in school, I would ask myself: Why do you want to be a doctor? What are you getting yourself into? Is it worth the sacrifices? These questions led me to re-evaluate my life based on what was most important. It resulted in "a moment of clarity." I desire a life filled with compassion, influence, purpose and intellectual challenges. I found this in pediatrics. Children do not ask to be ill, nor do the majority of them bring their illnesses on themselves. As a pediatrician, I can play so many roles: child advocate, educator, mentor, comforter and health-care provider.

Watching a child grow and heal, and playing an active role in that healing process-that to me is incredible.



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