Avaas Sharif, MD '17 Dedicated to Improving Trauma Care for Children and Teens
A Clinical Fellow in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Sharif has spent the last several months intimately working on the immigration crisis, helping to evaluate and support the children of families seeking asylum in the United States. Ranked the #1 children’s hospital by U.S. News & World Report, Boston Children’s Hospital treats a steady stream of immigrant children as Boston is home to the third largest population of Haitian immigrants. And through Harvard Medical School, Dr. Sharif was able to find the support and education that helped him learn how to evaluate these children and families seeking refuge.
“Many of the children suffer from devastating mental health issues—and those issues can impact them just as deeply as the violence they faced in their home country,” said Dr. Sharif, a 2017 graduate. “Many of these families are refugees who are running away from persecution, gangs and violence—places where it is very unsafe to live and suffer from PTSD, anxiety, and depression.”
The 33-year-old New Jersey native decided to become a physician so he could influence change.
The idea of service and helping children become whole inspired him early on. “My parents instilled in me how important it is to help people,” he said. During college, while at Rutgers University, he volunteered for his local town as an EMT.
While a student at AUC, he volunteered at and led an AUC outreach program at ICAN Orphanage, an orphanage for about 30 children ages 2 to 14 on the island of St. Maarten. One of his favorite experiences was taking the children for monthly treks to nearby Le Galion Beach for barbeques and fun days in the sun.
“I learned so much there about what really is most important in helping and creating unbreakable bonds with the children,” said Dr. Sharif. “We thought at first that what they needed was shoes because they were all barefoot. So, we collected and delivered shoes for all of them, only to watch them kick off the shoes right away to play in the sand and on the rocks completely unfazed. Shoes were exciting at first, but they were used to going barefoot and preferred it. Shoes really had little value for them. What they did let us know was that they cherished the bonding and play, and we reciprocated that. We also continued to do occasional wellbeing tutorials such as how to work on dental hygiene.”
For Dr. Sharif, the children at the orphanage are a reminder to open his heart to the reality of what some children might have been through and to try to help them heal.
After graduating from AUC, he completed his residency in psychiatry at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, New Jersey. There, he led a number of innovative and leadership programs including an educational program about the opioid epidemic as well as piloted a program that distributed free Narcan to families and caretakers.
In July of 2022, he will begin a second fellowship in Forensic Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Brigham Hospital (only one applicant is selected each year).
“The last few years have been surreal, filled with success, and it all started with my acceptance letter from AUC,” he said.
When Dr. Sharif can’t be found treating patients, designing curricula, or conducting lectures, he’s either traveling or staying in touch with two of his best friends he met at AUC. And to de-stress, he’s an avid basketball player and plays video games.