May 15, 2020

Fostering healing: Shanita Thomas reflects on her journey to becoming a medical student and scholarship winner

Shanita Thomas was 3 years old when she realized she wanted to be a doctor, and 7 when she entered her first foster home.

Shanita Thomas
Shanita Thomas

“I grew up watching ‘ER’ with a grandmother, so I think that’s where the idea sprouted, and throughout the years it just stuck. I’ve never wanted to be or do anything else,” she said.

By the time she aged out of the foster care system, she had lived in more than 20 different foster and group homes.

“Some of the homes were just as bad as my family life, so it felt no different. The changing of homes and schools constantly took a big emotional and mental toll,” she said. “I found refuge in learning and schooling. I excelled at it and loved everything about learning. I threw all my energy into it, and it worked out once I was accepted to University of Michigan my senior year (of high school).”

She is now a member of the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Class of 2022. She also learned she is part of the ElevateMeD Scholars program’s first cohort, announced May 4.

The 2020-2021 Scholars Program features a dynamic group of 10 medical students selected from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based nonprofit program is a multifaceted program designed to develop the next generation of physician leaders. Each scholar is given a $10,000 scholarship for each year remaining in their medical degree, in addition to physician mentorship, access to peer network support, leadership development opportunities and financial management education. The aim is to increase physician workforce diversity and improve cultural competence among physicians to reduce health disparities.

“I was super excited when I learned that I was chosen. It’s twofold: I’m happy for the financial help because tuition and living cost are so expensive these days and it helps lessen the amount of loans I have. Secondly, once I learned more about ElevateMeD and their vision to change the face of medicine and also offer community/networking and mentorship to us scholars, I feel extremely fortunate,” Thomas added.

While Thomas isn’t sure of the specialty she will pursue after graduation, she is considering Obstetrics and Gynecology or surgery. She also has a particular interest in addiction medicine because of her family’s history with substance use disorders.

“No matter what path I take, I would still like to pursue a fellowship in addiction medicine because family addictions have had a huge impact on my life,” she said.

Thomas attended the School of Medicine’s Post-Baccalaureate Program before acceptance into the medical degree program. She was nominated for ElevateMeD by School of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion Director De’Andrea Matthews.

 “I would like to thank Dr. Matthews for nominating me. And the Office of Diversity and Inclusion as a whole, who accepted me into the Post-Baccalaureate Program and propelled my med school dreams,” she said. “Lastly would like to thank Dr. John Hopper, who is a great mentor fostering my interest in addiction medicine.”