Need hope? Look to tomorrow’s health care professionals

Throughout the pandemic, DMU students have volunteered to serve central Iowa health care employees and food distribution efforts. They virtually mentored undergraduates interested in health care careers. And they adapted to new ways of online learning and maintaining a steadfast and optimistic commitment toward their career goals. Here are two examples.

Suleiman Ameh, D.O.’24: pandemic “added to my motivation to become a physician”

As a teenager, Suleiman Ameh convinced his parents to let him participate in a high school exchange program that took him from his home in a rural village in Nigeria to rural Swea City, IA.

“As a child, I had an adventurous spirit and was very independent,” he says. “That, coupled with stories my dad told me, gives me my motivation.”

What he observed in his village and through the experiences of his late father, Ibrahim Ameh, a nurse, shaped his course.

“I saw a lot of people who were sick who didn’t know what was wrong. People suffered from a lack of health care,” Ameh says. “There was a feeling of hopelessness because we had no physician and no clinic. I want to make a difference in that way.”

In 2009, Ameh was selected to participate in the Global Youth Institute of the World Food Prize Foundation, headquartered in Des Moines; among the program’s activities was a tour of DMU’s simulation center. 

Ameh returned to the United States to attend Simpson College in Indianola, IA. A biochemistry major, he conducted research with his academic adviser and professor, Jackie Brittingham, Ph.D. When he needed a type of microscope the college didn’t possess, she connected him with one through her husband, Andrew Brittingham, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at DMU.

After graduating, Ameh worked as a phlebotomist and participated in DMU’s Mentored Student Research Program. He and his wife, Megan, befriended Wayne Terry, Ph.D., professor emeritus of physiology and pharmacology, who guided Ameh in applying for medical school. When he got accepted by DMU, he canceled his other interviews.

The anxieties and tragedies caused by COVID-19 have only fueled his drive to take positive action.

“The pandemic reminded me of where I come from. It added to my motivation to become a physician,”he says. “It’s made me think about ways I could incorporate research as a physician. It’s really a motivating factor.”

Philip Jurasinski, D.O.’21, M.P.H.’21: “fantastic opportunity” to meld public health, health care

Philip Jurasinski’s work as a nurse practitioner gives him useful perspectives as he now navigates his final year in DMU’s osteopathic medical program and master’s program in public health. He well remembers “suiting up for Ebola” while working at a children’s hospital in Las Vegas.

Philip Jurasinski, D.O.’21, M.P.H.’21

“I’m viewing this pandemic as the kind of thing I could have anticipated happening during my life,” he says. “I’m ready to get back out there and help. It’s an opportunity to make a difference.”

He knows risks are involved. “Will I as a health care provider get COVID-19? There’s a possibility that could happen,” he says. “We need to accept that fact and do the best we can under the circumstances, to show and lead by example.”

Jurasinski is determined to do so as he explores residency programs via Zoom. “The people I’ve talked with have been very adamant about social justice issues and what we can do about them,” he says. “How can we provide for people with special needs? A lot receive services through school. And people with special needs are at a higher risk, because the services they receive tend to be in person, and a lot of have underlying health issues.”

Despite that and myriad other challenges posed by the pandemic, he also believes it will compel positive change. 

“This is a momentous occasion for public health and health care providers to be more synergistic than ever before. We have an obligation to be a good model not only in health care settings but in public settings as well. We are the people who are going to be turned to for advice and who will be looked to for services. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

“This is an opportunity for people in public health to say, ‘Here are all the services we provide, and here is why we need more funding,” he adds. “America really is at a crossroads. Our response to the pandemic has presented an opportunity to shape our infrastructure.”

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