By Published: Aug. 13, 2020

After an Anschutz medical team helped her family, CU Boulder student resolves to become a doctor

Ledya Gebrehiwot did not always want to be a doctor. But when her father was hospitalized with pancreatic cancer, that all changed. 

“The medical team’s hard work struck a chord with me, and I’ve wanted to follow in their footsteps ever since,” says Gebrehiwot. 

“I want to be what they were for my family, to others.”

Ledya Gebrehiwot

Ledya Gebrehiwot

Gebrehiwot, who is a senior majoring in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, is this year’s winner of the Annabelle K. Lutz Voss Student Support Fund scholarship. The fund was founded to support students who are leaders in their communities and interested in health-professions careers.

“At the heart of this award is that academic achievement influences one’s path through life,” says Omer Voss, Jr., one of the fund’s trustees. “It relieves the students of some financial pressure and lets them focus on achieving what they’re aiming for in their life’s path.”

Winners receive up to $2,000 that can be applied as a scholarship or stipend to help with tuition or expenses related to their education. Gebrehiwot was a strong candidate with a solid grade point average and extracurriculars, both of which showed her interest and drive, says David Aragoni, scholarship coordinator and analyst in the College of Arts and Sciences. What set Gebrehiwot apart, though, was her personal connection to medicine brought about by her family’s experience.

“She had faced health obstacles with her family, but they influenced her desire and interest in medical school,” says Aragoni. Rather than prove a hindrance, the difficult experience confirmed “why she had that passion for medical school and what she wants to do with her life.”

Omer Voss, Jr. agrees. “She sounds like a committed student with a lot of interests. And she has the determination and the common sense to use those resources to improve her knowledge or to gain experience.”

“It’s rewarding to see a good winner, and the intent of the fund and its criteria being fulfilled.”

Gebrehiwot’s journey to and preparation for medicine

Born in Ethiopia, Gebrehiwot’s family moved to Aurora when she was 9. In middle school and high school, she enrolled in Aurora LIGHTS, a program designed to lead students in Aurora Public Schools to medical school through rigorous, college-level teaching and classes about the medical profession. When choosing her college, Gebrehiwot felt CU Boulder would continue to stretch her with new experiences and offer the best preparation. 

“CU Boulder … was close to where my family is in Aurora,” says Gebrehiwot. “I wanted something different—a new environment and new experiences. I wanted something as close to what medical schools are teaching or what would prepare me best for medical school.

Gebrehiwot says she enjoys meeting challenges in integrative physiology. She also seeks experiences outside of classes to improve her grasp of medical-school requirements. Most recently, she successfully earned admission into CU Denver Anschutz’s Undergraduate Pre-Health Program (UPP), a competitive, year-long experience that teaches undergraduate students about health disparities and social justice issues that impact equity in health care.

Through UPP, she has opportunities to volunteer at Dawn Clinic, which offers affordable care for people without health insurance. At the same time, she works in Professor Doug Seals’ Circadian and Sleep Epidemiology Lab at CU Boulder, where she gains research experience in epidemiology. 

Despite the rigorous schedule, Gebrehiwot believes she has seen success at CU Boulder by maintaining a healthy balance between her academic and personal lives, while learning from her mistakes. 

At the heart of this award is that academic achievement influences one’s path through life."

“My health comes first, not school,” she says. “And my family, my friends, the experiences that I have with them come first as well.”

She advises fellow students “to have a life. Not just an academic life. Whatever you love doing outside of school … Keep that interest, because just doing science takes a toll and it’s not always fun.”

For Gebrehiwot, maintaining relationships that offer her perspective outside of her major are critical. She especially values advice from mentors to whom she connected through CU Boulder’s Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program (MASP).

“It's always good to listen to other people who have been around more students and … take their advice into account instead of just being like, ‘This is my plan and I'm going to do it regardless of whether it’s rational or not,’” says Gebrehiwot. “In MASP, they help you do the best that you're capable of.”

This summer, Gebrehiwot plans to begin applying to medical schools, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine is at the top of her list. She is interested in studying emergency medicine, a career to which she’s drawn for the challenge of learning as much about the human body as possible. 

She also enjoys the field’s fast pace and the need to rapidly adapt to the needs of every patient. “You have to, in the moment, compile your knowledge and what's happening in front of you and figure out a solution fast,” she says.

“You never know what's coming at you.”