By Nathan Blackburn
For Keshee’ Harris, OMS II, a career in medicine has been a dream that was a long time coming.
“Medicine has always felt like a calling of mine: I used to always talk about being a doctor as a young child, but I distinctly remember as an adolescent reading books about wellness that my grandmother would keep around the house and helping her tend to our homegrown garden,” Harris said. “The importance of taking action toward maintaining health was always just instilled within me in these more subliminal ways.”
As she grew into adulthood, Harris became acutely aware of the disparities in the medical field.
“It was astounding to me that so many people I love viewed health as a luxury due to systemic inequity in the medical field that perpetuates that cycle of belief,” Harris said. “I wanted to directly impact this belief. So, I started hosting meditation workshops in the community as a preventive health measure. The feeling it gave me to help others take action toward bettering their health and quality of life reinvigorated my original dream of becoming a doctor and being able to facilitate this on a larger scale.”
As she was thinking of her future, Harris knew she wanted to stay in the Columbus area. The Heritage College’s focus on training physicians who consider patients’ environments and experiences as important components in their diagnosis, treatment and care cemented her desire to attend medical school here.
“This was the only school I toured, because I knew once I learned of the osteopathic model of medicine that this was the route that aligned best with who I am and who I wanted to be as a practitioner,” Harris said. “I think when recruiting students, especially URM students, it’s important to consider the multifactorial barriers that exist to even getting to a point of applying. I feel that HCOM did a great job recognizing my potential to thrive as a medical student and future doctor. It makes me proud to be here thriving in many roles and to know they saw this in me even on paper.”
Harris knew upon arrival that she was going to leave her mark on the college. From a desire to serve those who are not often served, to a tenacity for learning and applying herself, she made the leap from new student to Student National Medical Association chapter president on the Dublin campus.
“This organization matches everything I’m passionate about doing in terms of supporting underserved communities and reaching back to form a pipeline for URM students interested in medicine, and to serve as an accurate source of information for minority health disparities,” Harris said. “I believe the SNMA board in Dublin saw my eagerness to lead and to propel our mission forward, so I was able to apply and attain the presidency. As a new president, there was a huge learning curve of figuring out my leadership style in this realm, as well as balancing school and life demands. I had to figure out what the most attainable goals should be for the org, after dropping our presence due to the pandemic, and how best to lay a solid foundation for our community and the future SNMA leaders. I’m so grateful I had our other chapter presidents Audry (Carlton, of the Cleveland campus) and Kiara (Patton, of the Athens campus) to lean on and to lighten the load of maintaining regional and national requirements.”
Harris’ impact reaches farther than her SNMA presidency. She not only participates in the Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways Program but also the OhioHealth Physician Diversity Scholars Program. These roles hold a special place in Harris’ heart.
“RUSP offers workshops and pairs you with a coach to support you in your school journey,” Harris said. “PDS is an amazing program, which partners URM students with a mentor from their specialty interest. It’s so unique because it is truly a network of mentors dedicated to the program who all are rooting on your success, even if you are not specifically paired. As a URM student, it really provides a family that can answer questions, provide connections within every specialty and give resources where you otherwise may not have them.”
For any potential student who may not know where to start or may not have the confidence to pursue an education in medicine, Harris has a bit of advice:
“First and foremost, have the inner confidence to know that you deserve to be here if this is your dream. It all starts with knowing that there is a higher purpose for your being in the medical field, and keeping this in your mind will provide the drive and resilience to get here even with some ‘no’s’ on the path,” Harris said. “Figure out what needs to be done and investigate how you can make it happen. Take advantage of any opportunity you find related to medical information to grow your network. If you have a highly nontraditional path, recognize you have a leg up in the application cycle because you can set yourself apart from the crowd.”
Harris knows this from experience because she did not follow a traditional path to medical school. During her gap years she hosted meditation workshops but primarily worked in trucking while caring for her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease.
“It helped to have a different story than most,” Harris said. “So, lean into your differences and know people like me are rooting for you to be here.”