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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: MD/PhD Student Lorenzo Sewanan Looks Back At The Fellowship

  • lorenzo sewanan

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants. After two years the Fellows join a lifelong community of past Fellows. We asked Lorenzo Sewanan, a 2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, to look back at the first two years of the Fellowship and what they have meant to him. 

Lorenzo was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, to Indo-Caribbean parents who migrated there in the 1970s from Guyana to escape the economic and political unrest of the Socialist regime. Lorenzo spent his first sixteen years in the former Dutch colony, exploring his neighborhood, reading books of places real and fantastic, and working at his family's store. In 2008, the family left Suriname and moved to the United States to pursue a better future. Lorenzo attended Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, for two years and then Trinity College as a QuestBridge College Match Scholar.

Lorenzo is finishing his PhD and will spend another year and a half finishing his MD at Yale University. Afterwards, he plans to train in internal medicine and cardiology in a physician-scientist training pathway program, with the goal of being an academic cardiologist. Lorenzo would like to “investigate questions relevant to patient health and continue to advocate for patients in achieving their best health outcomes.” He serves on the PDSFA board as communications co-coordinator along with 2016 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Eric Chung.

 

Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I applied to the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans because it seemed to foster an incredible community of hard-working, brilliant immigrants committed to making contributions to American society in diverse areas from art and business to policy and medicine. I thought that I could reaffirm my commitment to these shared values and become inspired and further driven by the stories of and personal connections with this incredible group of people as I completed my MD and PhD in biomedical engineering in the joint degree Medical Scientist Training Program at the Yale School of Medicine.

Who has inspired you from the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community?

Though I have never met him and maybe never will, the former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has inspired me in many ways, including his work as surgeon general highlighting important social determinants of health such as social isolation, and his leadership of one of the most committed groups of physicians fighting for health justice as cofounder of Doctors for America. However, the first time I heard the name Vivek Murthy had nothing to do with these more political avenues. While I was a preclinical medical student at the Yale School of Medicine, I was excited to participate in a specific elective course The Healer’s Art led by the legendary Auguste Fortin based on the innovative curriculum developed by Rachel Naomi Remen. The history is that the course was first developed by Dr. Remen and taught at UCSF School of Medicine in the 1990s; however, in 1999, the course was also first taught at Yale, brought here by none other than Dr. Murthy. As I remember from Dr. Fortin, Dr. Murthy, then a medical student at Yale School of Medicine, had encountered the course by chance while on a visit to UCSF and was so excited by what he had seen that he immediately came back to Yale, recruited Dr. Fortin, and had the course piloted here. I can’t overstate the impact of this course on my thinking and development as a medical student and future physician. We sat at night in dark rooms lit by candles, on the floor, in a circle, and over the course of a few weeks, we explored our feelings and experiences of what it meant to be a doctor, to be a patient, and to be in between these. On the last day, we wrote vows of what we would strive to be, and I think by then for the first time, I had begun to truly understand that what I wanted to do was to try to heal people, not just cure them.

You’re now finishing up the second year of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

The PD Soros Fellowship has far exceeded my expectations, when it comes to the level of support, the community, and the incredible thoughtfulness of the approach of the Fellowship, the Soros family, and the staff that run the program. The Fall Conferences provide a series of insightful, thoughtful, and enjoyable events and experiences that are some of the highlights of my past two years.

As a New American, why has it been important to have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community?

As a particularly new New American, in the sense that I personally immigrated here from a developing country with limited resources to live in underprivileged immigrant communities, I cannot say that I have been privileged in many parts of my life to personally meet and know other immigrants and people of diverse backgrounds that are in the same academic and professional circles that I have sought to pursue. Many of the times I look around, I only see a few people who share some of those important formative life experiences as me, people that would understand not only my struggles but also my joys. Being in the PD Soros community had allowed me, for one of the first times in my life, to look around the room and see people just like me, in not only a demographic sense but also in a values sense, being leaders and striving for excellence in their individual callings.

What has The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program brought to your life?

I think the main thing it has brought to me is confidence in my own dreams and goals to some extent—and a hopeful feeling that I belong to a larger community.

Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?

The Fall Conferences have been a tremendous highlight. I really loved sharing the experience of going to plays with the other PD Soros Fellows, and I also can’t forget the time spent at Mrs. Soros’ house, conversing with these generous people who were interested in what myself and other PD Soros Fellows were doing and wanted to do. I am really thankful for all these experiences.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I think the main advice I would give is that you should apply because if you don’t try then you have no chance. I thought of applying twice before I actually applied, and I always stopped myself those application cycles because I looked at everyone and thought that they were so incredible and that I could not dare to be part of that group. And, I still feel really fortunate and lucky that I got to be a PD Soros Fellow, but mostly, I would say that even if you don’t think you fit well, you should apply anyway.