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Blog » Guest Blog: From Iraq to Kentucky: A Medical Student’s Journey to Serve the Underserved

Guest Blog: From Iraq to Kentucky: A Medical Student’s Journey to Serve the Underserved

June 1, 2018

By Mustafa M. Basree, MS, OMS-II, University of Pikeville – Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine

Waking up to sirens, leaving school early to avoid being kidnapped, and losing friends and family members were my reality. This was home. This was Baghdad. Nine years ago, I arrived in the U.S. as an asylee and fortunately was able to finish my education, secure access to health care, and enjoy a safe place I now call home. As I reflect on these events, they have made me stronger, more compassionate, and more perseverant. Fast forward to medical school, I’m privileged to be entering a profession that works with patients, alleviates pain, and improves quality of life.

The lack of physicians and deterioration of medical services following the Iraq war inspired me to practice medicine. After attending schools in Boston, Chicago, and Columbus, going to medical school in Eastern Kentucky shaped my career goals of promoting the health and well-being of underserved communities through improving access to high-quality, affordable medicine. Before attempting to realize those dreams, I needed to find means to pay for school. My parents are accountants by training, but like many other older immigrants, they could not compete with the U.S.-trained, younger workforce. Therefore, they have resorted to working lower-level jobs to secure a living, unable to provide me with the means to afford medical school. As an Iraqi-American with a short credit history and no creditworthy co-signers, my only reasonable option after grants and scholarships is federal loans.

Currently, federal unsubsidized loans cover roughly two-thirds of my cost of attendance, with Grad PLUS picking up the rest. While relying on Grad PLUS for rent, food, and emergencies is not news to anyone, not having this option would severely hinder my career and ability to finish medical school. Entering medical school with nearly $60,000 of undergraduate and graduate debt weighs heavily on me as I anticipate over $250,000 total in debt upon graduation.

Despite unwaning enthusiasm to work in areas with a high Health Professional Shortage Area score, bringing medicine to medically underserved communities may not be the most financially sound decision to make. Loan forgiveness programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) incentivize me to work for not-for-profit or state organizations in needy communities. To me personally, this seems like an ideal situation where I get to improve access to health care and have my loans forgiven after 10 years of service and thereby paying down my debt.

This illustrates why ED to MED is such as an important vehicle for rallying support and maintaining a strong, constant voice advocating for PSLF and Grad PLUS loans. I strongly encourage everyone to go to and send your Members of Congress a message indicating your support for these programs. Don’t know what to say, or do not have time to formulate a formal letter? No problem – the website provides a pre-written letter personalized to your Representative, so you can review and send within minutes.

Thankfully, I no longer wake up to the sounds of gunfire; however, these now phantom sounds always serve as a reminder and impetus to be stronger and more aware of my personal goals, as well as the needs of others. I recognize a dire need for thoughtful and compassionate physicians to provide medical attention and care for patients in medically underserved areas. Millions of students nationwide rely on Grad PLUS loans and utilize PSLF to realize their dream, combat health disparities, and improve quality of life among our future patients.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.

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