College of Human Medicine student Michelle Walls is the first recipient of a Diversity in Medicine Scholarship under a program created by Dr. Mehmet Oz to inspire future doctors in underserved communities.
Walls learned she would receive the scholarship during an appearance on “The Dr. Oz Show,” which aired Nov. 25. Due to COVID-19, the second-year student appeared on the program through a virtual link. She was under the impression she was only a finalist for the scholarship until Oz announced she was the actual recipient.
“I was really caught off guard,” she said. “It was a perfect surprise.”
It was perfect, not only because it recognizes her many volunteer activities and the obstacles she overcame to become a medical student, but also because the $10,000 scholarship goes a long way toward covering her tuition.
The scholarship is part of a broader campaign called More Black Doctors that Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and Columbia University professor, founded to encourage more African Americans to become physicians, particularly in underserved communities. Applicants must be undergraduates or in medical school and show a commitment to serve their communities and tackle health inequities.
After applying and undergoing a series of interviews, Walls clearly met the program’s criteria.
“I was so inspired by your dedication, yet you never give up,” Oz told Walls. “One of the things that inspired me about you is you’ve already been out there trying to pass it along, trying to change each other and how we practice medicine.”
Asked what advice she would give others considering a career in medicine, Walls said, “I would say to them to not give up, because for me, my journey wasn’t straight. It definitely wasn’t easy. I heard a lot of ‘no’s’. So you’ve got to put those ‘no’s’ behind you and find someone who tells you that you still can.”
When she was 6 years old, her father died. Three years later, she and her three younger siblings were placed in Detroit-area foster homes because their mother was unable to care for them. When she turned 18, Walls aged out of her third foster home and was on her own.
Struggling with obesity, she embarked on a healthy diet and exercise program and shed the extra pounds. She then founded a nonprofit, Lifestyle Fitness Empowerment Inc., to encourage others to achieve better health through proper nutrition and exercise.
“I basically felt better about myself, and I wanted to show other people how they could do it,” she said.
After graduating from MSU, Walls was accepted in the College of Human Medicine. She volunteers at a Lansing homeless shelter and with the Spartan Street Medicine, a program run by the Colleges of Human Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine to serve homeless people in Ingham County.
“A lot of it is just talking to them and helping them with whatever they’re going through,” Walls said.
Part of her mission is to share her own story, hoping it is an inspiration for others who might think medical school is beyond reach.
Walls has plenty of time to decide on a specialty, but so far she’s interested in primary care, adding that she would ultimately like to practice medicine in her hometown of Detroit.