The PCOM Georgia medical student was recognized for working to educate her classmates
on substance abuse issues.
A PCOM Georgia Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) student, Akila Raja (DO ’21), has been named the 2019 Medical Association of Georgia
(MAG) Student of the Year. Each year, the award is presented to a student enrolled
in only one of Georgia’s medical schools. Raja was recognized October 18 and 19 at
MAG’s annual House of Delegates meeting held in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Raja said, “It is surreal to be recognized in this capacity by the Medical Association
of Georgia and my colleagues. It’s easy to forget why we pursue a career in medicine
when we’re constantly studying for exams and climbing such a steep learning curve.”
Former DO Council President Annie Phung (DO ’21) nominated Raja for the award highlighting
Raja’s work on a Road to Recovery Panel held last winter. The event featured five individuals affected by substance abuse
and included an interactive Q and A session. More than 100 faculty members and students
from all programs attended the panel which was partially funded by the D’Alonzo Fund,
given annually to a student whose goal is to host a project that will benefit the
“The opioid epidemic is demanding a lot of attention due to the number of lives being
taken annually from overdose,” Raja said. “I think it is important to recognize the
impact this has on, not only our patients, but our colleagues and the practice of
medicine as a whole. As physicians, we have a lot of power to drive change. I believe
that patient advocacy and education should be at the forefront of our goals.”
As part of the MAG nomination, Phung noted that Georgia was ranked ninth in opioid
overdose at the time, with deaths from overdose increasing exponentially. Prior to
the Road to Recovery event, Raja surveyed students and faculty members about their
personal and professional encounters with addiction to highlight the impact this topic
has on the campus.
In her nomination letter, Phung said that the epidemic is frequently discussed in
the medical field, however “medical students have little exposure to the role that
we can play in mediating substance dependence.”
In Raja’s award letter, Renai Lilly, MPA, manager of membership outreach and meeting
planning at MAG, wrote, “We were deeply impressed by your dedication to your community
and your strong planning devoted to the recovery panel event. This speaks to a prominent
social and healthcare issue. You are collaborative, thoughtful and selfless in your
endeavors and this was very notable to the Review Committee.”
Adding to her knowledge of addiction recovery, in July of 2018, Raja participated
in the Summer Institute for Medical Students (SIMS) at the Betty Ford Rehabilitation
Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The SIMS program allows medical students to spend
one week at the Betty Ford Center to learn from patients in an intimate setting. There
she learned about addiction first-hand from professionals as well as patients.
She explained, “We would spend a few hours every day with an assigned patient and
attend their therapy sessions, lecture series, exercise classes and eat lunch together.
It was the most natural way to learn about such a hard topic. My experience with SIMS
showed me how important it is to have an open conversation about addiction and tailor
how we approach this topic as clinicians; hence inspiring me to host the Road to Recovery
Raja also worked to bring a chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) to PCOM
Georgia despite facing numerous obstacles. GHHS is a nationally recognized medical
honor society with 161 chapters established at medical schools across the nation.
The organization recognizes medical students, residents and faculty who practice “patient-centered
care by modeling the qualities of integrity, excellence, compassion, altruism, respect
and empathy,” according to the organization.
After months of collaborative talks, the first members will graduate as part of the
class of 2021. Phung noted that Raja has been dedicated to bringing “experiences to
her colleagues and promoting compassionate care. She has inspired our classmates,
our faculty members and our community.”
Additionally, Raja is a member and former vice president of Sigma Sigma Phi, the honorary
osteopathic medical society.
Raja said, “Any project or program I did over the past few years served as a constant
reminder as to why I want to become a physician and of the impact I want to make in
my community and career.”
Prior to attending PCOM Georgia, Raja graduated cum laude from the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, with
a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and Cell Sciences. She is also a graduate
of Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, where she earned a Master of Science
in Medical Sciences. Her thesis topic was “Food Insecurity and Alcohol Use in People
with HIV Infection and Substance Use Disorder.”
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated
to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia
College of Osteopathic Medicine, a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied
history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and
physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical laboratory science,
and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM
Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service
to the wider community. For more information, visit pcom.edu/georgia or call 678-225-7500. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center,
an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment.
For more information, visit pcomgeorgiahealth.org.
For more information, contact: Barbara Myers Senior Public Relations Manager Email: BarbaraMy@pcom.edu Office: 678-225-7532 | Cell: