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UNLV School of Medicine Student Determined to Help the Underserved

November 12, 2019 by  
Filed under Feature

UNLV School of Medicine Student Determined to Help the Underserved


Sami Mesgun

Every time Sami Mesgun, a first-year UNLV School of Medicine student, thinks about the experience of his family, it seems more like a miracle.

When you hear his story, you can’t help but remember the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It is an American Dream story — where hard work pays off, where the child of poor immigrants pledges to give better healthcare back to the country that kept hope alive for his family, where dreams of leaving grinding poverty behind still can come true.

Mesgun’s parents grew up in Eritrea, which won a 30-year war of independence from Ethiopia in 1991. They didn’t escape the warfare together, first meeting in the nearby country of Sudan, where they eventually — after overcoming some harrowing hostility toward refugees — received the physical and legal protections that allowed them to come to the United States from Africa.

“Out of fear for their lives, they fled, hiding during the day and trekking at night,” he said. “My dad, in his twenties, abandoned his livelihood of selling chickens … my mom was only a teenager.”

Sami’s mom and dad eventually made it to the U.S. and settled in Las Vegas. Sami attended Durango High School and earned a scholarship to Cornell University. His brother is now attending UNLV and his sister is at Durango.

“I still find it miraculous that my dad was able to be the family’s sole provider as a taxi driver,” says Mesgun, who notes that after his father drove a taxi 12 hours a day for 10 years, the family was able to move from a two-bedroom apartment, with his dad purchasing a three-bedroom house.

Sami Mesgun and family

Mesgun is grateful that his parents stressed education as a way to a better life.

“When I was younger, my mother bought me English workbooks to work on grammar on the weekends even though she had difficulty with the language,” he recalled. “She made me give the workbooks to the teacher on Monday to make sure I did them right.”

If Mesgun wasn’t studying, he was running track and cross country for Durango High School, becoming captain of the cross country team his senior year.

It was while he was in middle and high school that he started thinking about becoming a physician. He would accompany his dad to medical appointments — and noticed that his dad never felt comfortable until a doctor took the time to understand his cultural beliefs regarding health (God’s will) and lay out his presentation of health problems in a way that made more sense to him.

Mesgun said he hopes to be much like the physician that his father appreciated. One who takes the time, for example, to find out that in his patient’s culture, God, not a medical practitioner, had the most to do with health outcomes.

Mesgun says when physicians took the time to patiently explain to his father how exercise and diet can help cardiovascular health, and how an enlarged prostate can affect well-being, Mesgun says his father came to realize that spirituality isn’t the only important element in healthcare.

“I want to be able to have conversations with patients that matter to them, where they fully disclose what’s going on with their health,” Mesgun says. “I want to help them manage their own health. I want to be about social justice and good medicine.”

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