Michaela Kowalewski was the proud recipient of our Gap Medics scholarship at the 2016 HOSA Annual Leadership Conference in Nashville. We awarded this to her because of her incredible dedication to her studies and to becoming a health professional – here’s her inspiring story. When did you realize you wanted to be a physician, and why does this career path attract you? Over the past four years, I have developed a strong interest in the medical field and anything medically related. Whether it is a hands-on activity such as a dissection or a conceptual lecture, I find myself mesmerized in a capacity that is different from my other classes. I have taken a number of medical courses throughout high school and found that these are the classes I look forward to the most. I try to relate the material in these classes to the world around me. I am excited to complete the homework and eager to go beyond the teacher’s expectations in order to further my understanding of the material. I think the reason this area of study intrigues me is the perpetual evolution within this field that is constantly challenging what we know in an attempt to grasp the unknown, thus lending itself to lifelong learning. This interest has led me to my current aspiration of becoming a physician. However, my passion for medicine is fueled by more than just my academic aptitude for science. My experiences with our health care system have also played a role. Seven years ago my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Over the course of the next four years, I watched my grandparents face the health care system working diligently to find ways to pay for the treatments, medications, and hospitalization all while feeling disenfranchised by doctors that acted superior to them, refused to explain the long-term treatment plan and were annoyed by their questions. This experience gave me new insight into our health care system and motivates me to provide patients with a different experience. I seek to empower my future patients by involving them in their treatment to further their investment in their personal health. As a physician, I will have the opportunity to use my education to provide my patients with the best medical care possible to ensure that they have the opportunity to fulfill their own aspirations. What do you think are the main skills and characteristics required to be a good health professional? Empathy, respect, and understanding are all crucial traits that health professionals must develop in order to effectively care for their patients. In medicine you are completely subject to your patients’ wishes, beliefs, and culture; therefore, in order to provide patients with adequate care you must have the ability to see things from their perspective, understand where they are coming from and ultimately respect their decisions even if you disagree from a personal or professional standpoint. You have to have a very clear vision of your role as a health professional and as important as it is to understand all you can accomplish, it is also important to understand your limitations. What are your other passions, interests and hobbies? I love math and science and plan to pursue these interest as a biochemistry major in the pre-med program at Knox College. In my free time, I love to hike, run on the track team and travel. I am passionate about understanding cultural differences and their implications in the medical field, as well as sustainability of the infrastructure of our health care system as it relates to health care reform. You are also a member of HOSA Future Health Professionals. What are the benefits of joining HOSA? My capacity for collaboration, communication and social responsibility has developed significantly through my experiences in HOSA. Halfway through the 2013-2014 school year, my HOSA chapter started the Weekend Warrior Food Pack Program, to provide underprivileged elementary students with a pack of food each week to sustain them over the weekend. This program is built on a foundation of collaboration between my HOSA chapter, high school, community and the schools receiving the food packs. As a HOSA officer for the past two years and specifically as the VP of service this past year, it was my job to maintain and nurture the collaboration between these groups to ensure the continuation of the food pack program. Through this experience, I learned just how powerful collaboration can be and now strive to maximize my personal potential through working with others. An important component of my ability to collaborate with others is my ability to effectively articulate my ideas. To this end, good communication skills are another quality I have honed through my experience in HOSA. From presenting ideas in officer meetings, to explaining the Weekend Warrior Food Pack Program to community members, to partnering with teachers and counselors at local elementary schools, my communication skills have been sharpened, as I have had to effectively communicate with individuals of all ages in a wide variety of contexts. Through HOSA I have developed a strong sense of social responsibility. My facilitation of the food pack program has allowed me to help reduce food insecurity in my community. Thus, HOSA has provided me with an outlet to define and pursue my goals of addressing health needs in my community now, before I have even had the opportunity to become a licensed medical professional. The positive impact I have been able to enact within my community through my HOSA chapter inspires and drives me to be a socially responsible individual, dedicated to using my education to help others. You have done lots of work in the community through HOSA. Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you’ve worked on? Halfway through the 2013-2014 school year, I was made aware of the fact that 48 percent of the students in our district were on free and reduced lunch and many of them were going home hungry on the weekends. In response to this need, I helped start a student-run pantry pack program in my school’s HOSA chapter. We started the Weekend Warrior Food Pack Program to provide underprivileged elementary school students with a pack of food to sustain them over the weekend. Below is an outline of the impact this program has had each year since its inception. 2013-2014 Raised $2,241.77 and 6,657 food items, provided 55 students with packs each week at two local elementary schools, and helped raise awareness in our community about childhood hunger through fundraising efforts. 2014-2015 Expanded pantry pack program to 3 schools, delivered 80 packs each week, collected 11,415 food items, raised $5,381.56, and helped write lead2feed grant proposal. Our program was featured on KUTV-2 for its uniqueness and success, which continued to spread awareness for childhood hunger. 2015-2016 Currently provide 89 children in need with food packs each week at 4 schools. Raised 12,080 food items and $5,398.92, taught a class at the HOSA state-wide fall leadership conference, educating other HOSA officers about how to start a food pack program in their HOSA chapters. I have been deeply involved in the Weekend Warriors program at each level of its development from the first meeting when our HOSA chapter was just deciding to develop this program. Even though I was only a member at the time, I took the initiative to plan the first fundraiser and as a result became very invested in the success of the program. Given my extensive involvement as a member, I was selected to serve as a HOSA officer for the following two years. After becoming secretary in 11th grade, I helped plan all of the events I later became in charge of as Vice President of Service in 12th grade. This past year as our HOSA chapter Vice President of Service, I took on a whole new role in running this program. I was in charge of facilitating all events associated with our food pack program. I was responsible for running member packing events in which we pack approximately 900 packs, organizing food donations into categories by food type and expiration date in preparation for packing events, delivering packs and making sure other officers knew when they were assigned to deliver packs, and organizing the Souper Bowl of Caring fundraiser. Through all of these activities, we were able to get all of our members involved in this project and our food pack program is now the central outreach activity in our HOSA chapter, which provides members with a sense of purpose. How do you juggle your school work, volunteering and having time with friends and family? Time management is a very important skill to have and luckily through good time management practices I have been able to participate in a plethora of extracurricular activities, volunteer regularly, stay on top of my school work and still have time to be with my friends and family. My mentality when it comes to managing my time is that if you are passionate about what you are doing you will manage to find time to do it. There were certainly times in my high school career that I was slightly overwhelmed and possibly had too much on my plate, but whenever this would occur, I would re-examine everything I was doing and pared back things that were not as important to me. By doing this simple practice I was able to focus on the things that truly mattered. You are the lucky recipient of our Gap Medics Scholarship – congratulations! What do you plan to do with the money? I am ecstatic to be the recipient of the Gap Medics Scholarship. This scholarship means so much to me because it will enable me to pursue my undergraduate education at Knox College in Galesburg Illinois in preparation for medical school. Specifically, I have decided to use this scholarship to purchase my textbooks for the upcoming year. This scholarship is helping me pursue my dreams in medicine by enabling me to make the most of my time as an undergraduate student, as I look ahead toward my future in medicine. And finally – if you could give any advice to younger students who aspire to become health professionals, what would that advice be? The possibilities in medicine are endless. There are so many different career paths and the field is perpetually evolving. This is an amazing field of study and work that will keep you engaged and provide you with the opportunity to contribute to society. So if you are interested in a career in health care, pursue it. Get involved with organizations like HOSA and GAP Medics to expose yourself to different professions within the medical field, shadow health care professionals to determine if medicine is for you, and find ways to give back to your community by volunteering as much as your possibly can. 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