Going into medicine and public health was initially not the plan Hana Arega had when she immigrated from Ethiopia to the United States at the age of 11. But all that changed when she got into the University of Washington.
“I thought about not doing medicine so many times, just because I thought I couldn’t do it. Not to mention there was not a lot of Ethiopians I knew that went into medicine,” says Arega, 2020 Pinder Endowment Award recipient & INSIGHT alumna.
She says when she moved, Seattle was known for having one of the largest populations of Ethiopian immigrants. As of 2010, Seattle had one of the largest populations of Ethiopian immigrants in North America(est. 25,000-40,000).
Starting her freshman year at UW in 2016, Arega recalls having less than a dozen other Ethiopians, who were also interested in pre-med/medicine in her classes. Amongst themselves, there were also not a lot of resources they could turn to for motivation at the time.
“It’s hard as is to be pre-med at UW. I think amongst the five or six (pre-med students) that started, it was just me at the end and that could be due to lack of resources in our community,” says Arega.
Arega credits her career to her older siblings who were a few years ahead in their pre-med career at UW and a study abroad trip to Ethiopia. It was on this trip she realized there were more careers in medicine other than doctors and nurses. It was here ultimately she decided she wanted to pursue public health.
“Instead of just looking at someone’s illness, being able to understand their social demographics and what background they come from before providing care is all important,” Arega explains. “All of those things matter more than and/or can contribute to their illness more than the specific treatment that you give them.”
Since starting her career in medicine, Arega has taken part in a variety of different programs tailored into public health. Most recently, she took part in HIPRC’s INSIGHT summer program last summer where she was mentored by Dr. Barclay Stewart.
“By joining these programs, they highlight the need for public health and how those things make a difference- especially in African American’s lives,” says Arega.
During INSIGHT Arega won the Jean M. Pinder Endowment award. She says winning this made her realize the similarities she had with Pinder, while at the same time being inspired by the impact Pinder had while being a nurse and a public health leader.
Fast forward to today Arega is still on the pre-med path at UW. She is currently taking a gap year while she decides what her focus will be and as of now she may focus on maternal/child health or general family medicine.
In honor of Black History Month, Arega hopes anyone who may have had a similar upbringing or start in medicine finds the help they need to finish their career.
“Especially for African Americans, always search and look for mentors that can help you achieve your goals. It’s never easy doing things on your own and it’s really hard to find people with your background.”
For more on Jean Pinder, click here.