Teresa’s Speech: Accepting the Nickens Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges

Teresa Schiff, a student at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, received the Herbert W. Nickens award last year at the national convention of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Here are her inspiring remarks from that occasion.

Aloha. I am so honored and deeply humbled to stand here amongst all of you, but also so excited to stand in solidarity as we work toward the common goal of ending inequality. When Dr. Richard Kasuya, Associate Dean for Medical Education, asked to nominate me for this award, that was honor enough, and to stand here before you, seems almost like a dream. I want to thank him for his unending support, for my receipt of this award is in large part due to his belief in me, and the Nickens Family and the AAMC for this incredible privilege.

I chose medicine because I believed it would be a profession that would allow me to make a difference in the lives of those who needed help the most. In the first week of school one of my now advisors, Dr. Seiji Yamada, asked me point blank, “Well, what are you waiting for? Start now.” So I did.

Schiff and the Teen Camp team

I have been blessed with an absolutely amazing team, who are also now some of my closest friends. Together we began an interdisciplinary organization called the Partnership for Social Justice, bringing together students and faculty of medicine, public health, and law, as well as community members and teachers in an effort to seek tangible solutions to our local issues in health.

From these humble beginnings we began Teen Health Camp Hawaii, a program to empower our youth to enter into the health professions and return to make strides in their communities. Perhaps equally as important, we launched a 4-­-year certificate in social justice for M.D. students, certified by our Dean, Dr. Jerris Hedges, the first of its kind at my school. The hope is that this certificate program will cultivate a sense of social responsibility in the hearts of our young doctors that will translate to a lifelong pursuit of justice and advocacy on the behalf of our brothers and sisters worldwide.

The most exciting part of all of this is that it is only the very beginning. At 26 years old, I am extremely blessed to have had many varied opportunities to work alongside community members and volunteers in a number of countries throughout the world. I continue to believe in the difference that one person can make and seek to make my mine a positive one. And if one person can make a big difference, just think of the possibilities that exist when we work together! The truth is that I have learned that life’s greatest rewards have been in giving. Everything else is just a bonus.

I have to thank my family for their incredible support and for putting up with my somewhat “unconventional” ideas. I must say thank you to my team for we have made it here together – Kat Rieth, Jacques Ambrose, Brandyn Dunn, Eduardo Duquez – you all have, and continue to make it happen. I am so lucky to have you as my teammates! To Dr. Kasuya, Dr. Withy, Dr. Yamada, Dr. Maskarinec, Dr. Kaholokula, and Dr. Omori, and my countless other mentors and role models who guide me, thank you for supporting me and encouraging me to make a difference. I am so grateful to my home institution, the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, for encouraging me and allowing me the freedom to become a leader in my community. Like I said, this is only the beginning, thank goodness! I cannot wait to see what’s next. Perhaps I will be able to partner with some of you someday! I’d like to end with the famous quote from Margaret Mead: “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.” Thank you to the AAMC, the Nickens Award, and to all of you here today for encouraging us all to be that change we wish to see in the world. Mahalo, thank you.

In our main photo, MD students Schiff and Allen Wong demonstrate removing a cast at the Teen Health Camp for Castle High School