Even before setting foot on campus as a first-year student at Carolina, Kainat Aslam ’21 knew her goal was to gain admission to medical school. A Carolina Covenant Scholar from High Point, North Carolina, Aslam had seen members of her family struggle with health care costs and access, and she wanted to be able to provide care for underserved communities.
Aslam was attracted to UNC-Chapel Hill because of its strong science programs, as well as having an on-campus medical school and hospital that offered learning opportunities for undergraduates interested in medicine. Qualifying for aid from the Carolina Covenant sealed her decision to come to Carolina.
“The Covenant was amazing for me and for my parents because it meant there were no more obstacles to attending Carolina, which was my top choice,” Aslam said.
What Aslam did not initially realize was that the Carolina Covenant had also established a program to help students who, like her, were interested in pursuing medical careers in underserved communities. The Rural Medicine Pathway Program is a collaboration between the Carolina Covenant and the UNC School of Medicine that supports Covenant Scholars as they pursue health careers in rural areas.
“I found out about [the Rural Medicine Pathway Program] early in my first year, and it was an immediate fit with my goals,” Aslam said. “It was exciting to see that there was already that opportunity to get some extra help and resources to prepare for medical school.”
Aslam, who majored in biochemistry and economics with a minor in public policy, found support and opportunities to further explore her interest in medicine through the program. Faculty advisors Jean and Peter DeSaix, both biology professors, helped Aslam discover opportunities like the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), a student-led organization that offers free health services to uninsured and underinsured patients in Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Durham.
“I had so much support from mentors like Jean and Peter DeSaix,” Aslam said. “We would have meetings at their house and they would give me great advice about different opportunities that were available or how to connect and network with people in the medical profession.”
Aslam has now started her first year at the UNC School of Medicine. She said she finds medical school challenging, but the adjustment has been easier because the Rural Medicine Pathway Program helped her prepare.
Though she is just beginning her journey as a medical student, she is interested in general surgery as her specialty and is also considering pursuing a master’s degree in public health to study challenges of health care access and insurance.
While in medical school, she would like to continue her work with the SHAC, and perhaps take on a leadership role that would have her mentoring future Carolina Covenant Scholars who are part of the Rural Medicine Pathway Program.
“I’m proud of where I am and of the work that has gotten me to this point,” Aslam said. “So I’m still at the first step but also want to remember to give back and to help other people on that journey as well.”