Advocating for equal access

With a passion for equity, sophomore Joshua Dawson is advocating for — and empowering — underrepresented
pre-med students.


For students across the country, applying to medical school can be one of the most daunting tasks of their collegiate careers. But for some applicants, especially underrepresented minorities or students from underserved backgrounds, the most difficult part of that process can be completing the shadowing hours — time spent observing doctor-patient interactions — recommended by many medical schools, including the University of Washington.

“Connecting with physicians is not the easiest thing to do when you personally do not know any,” says Joshua Dawson, a sophomore studying molecular and cellular biology at the UW and a hopeful future physician. “It can be really hard to navigate the system.”

Seeing an opportunity to make a difference, Dawson and two peers decided to do something innovative: pioneer an online database for pre-med students to connect and network with practicing doctors. Together, they’re increasing access to careers in health care for countless students in the greater Seattle area.

Dawson and fellow sophomore Yarid Mera first came up with the idea for the shadowing project during a meeting with the dean of admissions at the UW School of Medicine. Learning about a program in Walla Walla that matched college students with physicians, Dawson and Mera, along with Jawwad Ali, another UW student, realized the immense impact a similar program could have in Seattle.

In collaboration with the King County Medical Society, they set to work implementing a database to provide undergraduates the required shadowing hours through online networking. Area physicians and hospitals quickly got on board, and students from universities across the region have already expressed interest in the budding program.

Dawson’s spirit of service was instilled early on. Finding “family away from home” at his high school in Federal Way, Washington — where about 60 percent of his classmates qualified for free or reduced lunch — Dawson recognized that his community gave him purpose for his studies, and empowered him to give back. He also was motivated by his family; despite facing financial difficulties, Dawson’s parents taught him that all doors were open to him — if he was willing to pursue them.

By the start of his freshman year at the UW, Dawson was raring to help his new community. His ambition and academic merits had earned him a prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship and a Costco Scholarship, and, inspired by the boundless opportunities the scholarships afforded him, Dawson sought to help other Huskies feel empowered. He quickly became involved on campus with the UW Leaders program, the Black Student Union and the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students (MAPS).

With the shadowing project continuing to pick up speed — Dawson, Mera and Ali plan to begin beta testing soon — Dawson looks forward to spending his sophomore year serving as an ambassador for the UW’s Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and as co-president of MAPS. “Education and community engagement are two tools that I utilize to make my vision a reality,” Dawson adds. A gifted public speaker, he also shares with hundreds of incoming students how getting involved on campus provided him invaluable support for pursuing his idea. “In college, you’ll have your ups and your downs,” he says, “but to have a group of people say ‘I know what you can accomplish’ is invaluable.”

Conference of Champions

Hear Dawson describe his Husky experience as part of the Pac-12 Network’s “Conference of Champions” television special.

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