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 community.
“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 event.”
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 which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences 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. 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 pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.
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