Jamaican Toni-Ann Lewis, 26, dreamed of becoming a doctor since she was 11 years old. She remembers watching the Discovery Health Channel every weekend and being amazed at the capabilities of the physicians. She knew she wanted to practice medicine someday, and the fact that her mother worked in the medical field only strengthened what she described as “my undying hunger” for the practice. Every day when her mother came home from work, Lewis would ask questions about how she treated the people she encountered. “It was a fascination that never ended,” she said.
As a Jamaican immigrant, Lewis felt she had to perform to a higher standard than her non-Jamaican peers. She had to know more, and she had to do more. Lewis attended the University of South Florida and worked as a volunteer at the Moffitt Cancer Center. Through that experience, she saw first-hand the value of medicine for people who are most in need. She learned to be compassionate and considerate of the patients’ experience and recognized that it is the duty of physicians to view their patients as individuals. During her college career, Lewis also participated in Alzheimer’s research, working under Dr. Umesh Jinwal at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, and during her junior year, she “shadowed” a gastroenterologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and two general surgeons at the Florida Hospital.
She then took the MCAT and began applying to medical schools. She received “rejection after rejection,” she said, experiencing her worst fear. The rejections were devastating to her, but she persevered. She applied to St. George’s University (SGU) dual degree MD/MPH program and was accepted. “Joy overflowed in me as I read my acceptance letter!”
During her time at SGU, Lewis participated in as many activities as she could, given her full schedule of classes. She used her passion for teaching to become a facilitator in the Department of Educational Services, educating students below her in topics she had mastered. She also became an Academic Enrichment Program facilitator, and every week throughout the semester, she would help her assigned group of first-semester medical students with their coursework. She maintained her love of teaching during her clinical years as well, becoming an online Medical School Assessment Program facilitator for the School of Medicine, again helping first-term students with coursework.
After Lewis earned her Master of Public Health degree from St. George’s University and celebrated this significant life accomplishment, she worked as a medical student side-by-side with physicians. She said she never felt “so involved nor so in love with what I did.” She looked forward to working at the hospital and learning all she could from the doctors who gave of their time to teach her. She wanted to become the best Internal Medicine physician she could be.
Her journey toward becoming a doctor required eight years of schoolwork after high school, working in two countries and at two hospitals, taking numerous exams, and exerting “plenty of blood, sweat, and tears,” she said. Now that she has completed her coursework and graduate cum laude with a dual MD/MPH degree with Distinction in Scholarly Activity, she attained an Internal Medicine residency at New York-Presbyterian-Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.
“I think the 11-year-old version of me would be proud,” she told Jamaicans.com.
Photo provided to Jamaicans.com by Doctor Toni-Ann Lewis