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National Student Doctor of the Year: ATSU-KCOM’s Michael Megafu

Michael Megafu delivers remarks while accepting his National Student Doctor of the Year award at AACOM’s Educating Leaders conference in April 2023.

The email’s subject line was ordinary enough. Something like “National Student Doctor of the Year results,” recalls Michael Megafu, now a fourth-year student at ATSU-KCOM.

Megafu was on his third-year rotations at Bayonne Medical Center in New Jersey, checking his email on his phone. He clicked to open the message and reveal its contents.

As expected, it was the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) announcing its national student doctor of osteopathic (DO) medicine winner, selected by AACOM’s Council of Student Government Presidents from a pool of nominees from every DO school in the U.S.

What Megafu didn’t expect was the word to begin the email: “Congratulations.”

“I was in utter shock,” Megafu says. “Me? I’m Student Doctor of the Year? I screamed in the middle of the hospital. I was really loud. Everyone looked at me like, ‘Mike, are you OK?’ I would have never imagined it in a million years.”

Megafu’s path to this point had hardly been a straight line. For much of his life, he’d wanted to be a teacher. He played college basketball at St. Joseph’s University, New York, starting and averaging a double-double in each of his four seasons. And when he decided to pursue his medical education, Megafu was turned down in two application cycles before earning his opportunity and choosing ATSU-KCOM.

But in explaining how it felt to win the award, Megafu perhaps best explains how he arrived at the moment – a combination of determination, gratitude, and modesty, which set a foundation for learning, growth, and success.

“When I was first selected to win ATSU-KCOM Student Doctor of the Year I was super humbled, because our school really brings out a lot of good students who are not only educationally sound, but actually doctors. People who have good bedside manners, people who you want to have on your team to deliver patient care,” Megafu says. “To win the national award, I was even more surprised and more humbled. It reminds me of how much I represent the people who voted for me.

“It’s not just a personal accomplishment, it’s representative of all of the student doctors across all of the different institutions. We all go through the same grind; we all have the same struggles we’re facing to become osteopathic physicians. It’s really easy to be discouraged, but the most important thing is patient care. We’re doctors at the end of the day and our patients matter most, so we go through all of these struggles for the patients and that’s what I try to demonstrate and emulate.”

Megafu was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. Healthcare was a big part of his life, with his mother a nurse and his father a public health investigator for the New York State Department of Health, but Megafu believed he wanted to be a teacher. Throughout his undergraduate studies, with a major in biology, he taught during the summers, and following graduation, he entered the teaching profession.

Something, though, kept pulling him toward medicine. Megafu said in high school he’d done an early exposure program in the health sciences and that sparked his interest, and that interest continued to grow until he decided to apply and eventually earn a seat with ATSU-KCOM.

Megafu with AACOM leadership
Michael Megafu poses with AACOM’s Immediate Past Board Chair Dr. H. William Craver (left) and AACOM’s President and CEO Dr. Robert A. Cain (right) after accepting his award

His next challenge? Leaving all he knew in New York City and moving halfway across the country to Kirksville, Missouri.

“I moved in on the Fourth of July. The next day, I’m getting my stuff together, my family is leaving, and I actually cried. I was miserable,” Megafu says. “The adjustment was tough.”

What settled him was what had initially appealed to him about ATSU-KCOM, and why he’s come to love and appreciate a place he chose to return to for his final year of rotations.

“The family-oriented nature and community vibes I got from ATSU were unparalleled. Kirksville breeds a lot of nice people who are supportive and friendly. I was able to establish relationships not only with my classmates, but with faculty, people in the community, my church, the school I taught at, and just being part of different organizations,” he says. “In the city, you’re forced to build small circles and hang onto your own. Kirksville brings you together. You get to know people on a deeper level.

“My first sub-internship in orthopedic surgery is in Kirksville. People ask, ‘You’re going back to Kirksville?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it was great. I missed it and the family I built there.’”

His path to this point may have been windy, but Megafu’s destinations from here are clear. Graduation in 2024. Residency. Then, in some form, a return to teaching. It has long been a passion for Megafu, who earned a medical education fellowship at ATSU-KCOM, and he is quick to point out how closely medicine and education are related.

“The word doctor means teacher in Latin,” he says. “My goal is to blend it all together. Whether I work at an academic center or a private practice and am affiliated with a medical school, I want to be able to be both a teacher and physician.

“I want to educate and inspire the next generation of, not only doctors, but medical professionals. That’s what I plan to do. Actually, let me change that. That’s what I will do.”

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