Antara Afrin’s small stature belies her ambitious dreams. A mentor and role model to aspiring doctors from underrepresented backgrounds, she plans to make medicine more accessible to people like her in the United States.
Antara is the undergraduate president of the University of Michigan Medical School’s Doctors of Tomorrow, a program that sparks interest in underrepresented minority students in health fields and provides the resources students need to be successful in pursuing medical careers. Antara currently tutors public school students in Detroit.
Antara’s involvement with DoT started in 2012, her senior year of high school, when it was established by Jonathan Finks, the Medical School’s associate professor of surgery. Though it was intended only for freshmen back in the day, Antara was nevertheless encouraged to attend events by Finks, whom she considers one of her role models.
“I feel like, as a student coming from the city of Detroit, I definitely had experiences with people (who) as soon they find out I’m from Detroit, they probably are like … ‘Do you want to go to X career instead of medicine?’ ” Antara said. “Dr. Finks is one of those people who’s just like, ‘You want to be a doctor? You’re going to be a doctor. And I’m going to help you in any way possible to make sure you’re a doctor.’ ”
Antara took such a liking to DoT that she opted to join as an undergraduate representative at the University. During her sophomore year, she realized the DoT program only mentored freshmen and did not follow up with them.
“We work with these ninth graders, but then we just let them go,” Antara said. “That’s not how this pipeline from high school to medical school should work … we can’t just stop midway.”
To alleviate this problem, Antara created DoT Rising, which continues to mentor students throughout high school. This year, eight of the first DoT students who were freshmen in 2012 enrolled as freshman at the University.
“It’s amazing because these students, I’ve seen them when I was a senior in high school,” Antara said. “And now to see them as a senior at UM … I see them all involved and doing great things on campus already, it makes me happy.”
Antara also started DoT Succeed, which encourages those who benefit from the program in high school to teach high schoolers once they’re in college.
As a graduate of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Antara works on a daily basis to bridge the gap between the high schoolers and Medical School students who participate in DoT. She referenced several instances in which her experience as a former Cass student provided her with an important perspective some of the medical students who participate in the program lacked.
“We were planning our end-of-the-year event, and at first someone was like, ‘We should probably hold it on a weekday,’ ” Antara recalled. “And I was like, ‘if we want parents there we can’t hold it on a weekday because a lot our students, their parents work jobs in manufacturing … if you’re coming from a lower-income background, you don’t want your parents to have to take off a day off for you and to have that pressure, so I was able to say no.”
Despite her large presence in the organization, Antara remains a humble figure. She explained that she prefers an inclusive environment in which everyone’s opinion is carefully considered, especially those who may not be inclined to speak in public.
“Usually when you lay down a problem the first person to answer will be the really extroverted, really outgoing person who answers the question,” Antara said. “However, you’ll have the greatest ideas in a person who’s really quiet.”
Antara’s Islamic faith and commitment to social justice guide her through life. Her mother always told her that she must expand her boundaries and discover knowledge, as that is what the Quran encourages all Muslims to do.
“It’s funny because when people see that I’m Muslim-American, they immediately assume, ‘Oh, she’s oppressed,’ ” Antara said. “But then I’m like, ‘No, I aspire to these goals because I feel like that’s what my religion tells me. My religion tells me to help others and it tells me to be more knowledgeable.’ ”
In the future, Antara plans to establish a network of medical clinics in underserved areas that take into account the social and cultural needs of the community. For example, a clinic in a predominantly Muslim area where physicians and nurses know what to expect during the fasting season of Ramadan. Antara explained that minorities and immigrants have been underserved throughout the history of the United States, and it’s about time that their needs are being met too.
“I don’t want to just be the friendly neighborhood physician,” Antara said. “I also want to be a leader in medicine … I just don’t want to serve just one patient, I want to serve a community.”
Antara is enrolling in a supply-chain management MBA program at Michigan State University starting in August to learn how to open the clinics, then plans to obtain her MD. She hopes to continue being a figure students from underrepresented groups can follow and identify with.
“I just want to let them know that they’re just as capable,” she said.
See the 7 other students of the year here.