Young children often dream of being superheroes like Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, but when Mohammed Islam was a child, his superheroes didn’t wear capes, they wore scrubs – they were the doctors and nurses he met accompanying his mother to her medical appointments to act as her translator.
“I was a kid still learning English, hearing medical jargon,” Mr. Islam said. “I saw the doctors and nurses and was intrigued by them. I wanted super powers and they had the power to heal.”
When he was five, Mr. Islam’s family emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. to live in East New York, Brooklyn.
He attended the local elementary schools until middle school, when his parents enrolled him in a Queens Madrasa, a school for Islam-centered education, so that he could learn more about his faith and remain focused. It was also post 9/11, and his parents felt that being in a school with other Muslims students would help insulate him from some of the Islamophobia they’d experienced, including instances of someone trying to pull off his mother’s scarf and strangers calling them names.
After his Quran studies at the Madrasa were complete, his teachers advised him to attend a school that trains people to become Islamic scholars. In 2010, he left for Johannesburg, South Africa, for a six-year religious studies program.
When he came back to the U.S. at 21, he felt he was “on a whole new island.” His family had moved from Brooklyn to a larger apartment in Stapleton Houses in Staten Island.
Taking the ferry wasn’t the only thing he had to teach himself to do. He wanted to attend college, but because he didn’t have a high school degree he had to take the high school equivalency exam, which he passed thanks to help from a prep course at Columbia University.
Mr. Islam will be even closer to fulfilling his childhood dream when he graduates from the College of Staten Island this December. He plans to take the Medical College Admission Test in March 2020 and hopes to be accepted to a medical school in New York.
He’s also been preparing for his future career with on-the-job experience. Currently, he works as a scribe at the Staten Island University Hospital ER, where he records notes for attending physicians, completes patient charts, transcribes dictation for medical reports, and more.
And over the summer, he had an amazing opportunity to intern at a teaching hospital in Fez, Morocco, thanks to the Fund for Education Abroad. He spent four weeks at a teaching hospital there, shadowing physicians in nephrology, neurology, pediatrics, and radiation-oncology.
In addition to becoming immersed in Moroccan food, art, language, and “the best tea,” Mr. Islam said the internship “solidified my intention of pursuing a career in medicine and gave me a perspective of what global medicine looks like. I’ve always had the intention of practicing medicine in underserved communities, but I have a global mission now.”
His mission is also to give back on a personal level. Before Morocco, he spent three weeks this summer in the CUNY Service Corps – Puerto Rico, where he helped repair roofs for families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Maria. He volunteers with Muslims Giving Back, where he teaches a course on the Quran, helps with the organization’s food pantry, and raises money. He was also a member of NYCHA’s Advisory Group on Smoking and Health, which helped implement the Authority’s non-smoking policy.
With all the activities Mr. Islam is involved in, it’s no wonder that he was one of this year’s winners of the NYCHA-CUNY Scholarship, which provides recipients with $1,000 for education-related expenses. In fact, this is the third time he’s won the award.
What keeps him pursuing his goals, even in the face of obstacles, is something he believes everyone, not just superheroes, can live by: “Dream big, and strive with full effort until your dreams become your reality.”