The decision to become a doctor can happen at any moment of one’s life; subsequently changing everything they once knew, in order to help someone in need. That was very much the case for Dr Sagi Elhassan, originally from Sudan, Africa, a 2019 graduate from Saint James School of Medicine.
November 3, 1999 will forever be ingrained into his memory. It was on this day, he was brought to his teacher’s office and told that his nine-year-old best friend had just died from an “illness” he had contracted two weeks ago. From then on, Dr. Elhassan made it his mission to understand what had happened to his friend and what he could have done to prevent this tragedy. Several years later, before migrating to the United States, his friend’s mother told him that her son had contracted bacterial meningitis known to them as “Abu Farar”. Unfortunately, this disease was not uncommon to the villagers. [MK1]
“In my mind’s eye, one answer was clear, I was destined to be a healer” he said. “I could not bear the thought of others suffering similar tragedies of losing loved ones due to a lack of medical personnel or supplies”. In his village, reaching adulthood was considered a high achievement, let alone becoming a doctor. It is because of this, Dr. Elhassan credits SJSM for allowing him to reach his goals of becoming a well-rounded doctor by providing him with the tools and knowledge that he needed.
“They did it superbly, they did it flawlessly, and most importantly, they did it CHEAPLY,” Dr. Elhassan said. He was able to graduate medical school debt free while most of his colleagues are carrying heavy loan burdens north of 200K.
“I never felt at a disadvantage being from a Caribbean medical school” he said. “Quite the opposite actually, people were intrigued, and most were actually envious that I got to spend 16 months on a paradise island while learning basic sciences.” While completing medical school in the Caribbean may not be the traditional route, his degree from SJSM provided him with the same opportunities as graduates from larger and more expensive schools within the United States.
Dr. Elhassan believes that “SJSM doesn’t just give its students a competitive edge in terms of education, but also sets up their students towards financial independence as they enter the professional world.” And to all those prospective students, Dr. Elhassan would stress the importance of medical research that SJSM requires before graduation. This is vital in order to strengthen your application into any residency program.
In collaboration with his fellow alumni from Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Elhassan was given the greenlight to work on a research paper by a professor in pharmacology. His experience in research at SJSM provided him with the knowledge he needed to construct a compelling paper. A year later, Dr. Elhassan was published by Oxford University press and USA Science, and was given the recognition as first author.
With the assistance of SJSM, Dr. Elhassan is undergoing his residency at the University of Arizona in their Neurology program, securing the number one spot. Upon completion of his neurology residency, he plans on pursuing a fellowship in neuro-endovascular surgery.
His advice to those considering a career in medicine is, “If you believe that this is your calling, this school is undoubtedly the way to go.” He said, “The success in medicine starts here.”