3rd Year Student Nyla Shah leads advocacy on campus for women entering medicine
Born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) student Nyla Shah, Class of ’26, spent most of the first six years of her lifewatching her younger sister slowly die of liver disease. “I got an understanding of the concept of illness and death at a young age. The staff at the Milwaukee Children’s Hospital introduced me to the medical field by entertaining me while my parents were occupied caring for my sister. I looked up to them and it’s part of the reason I’m considering Internal Medicine as a specialty now.” That experience motivated her to choose medicine as a career.
An emerging interest in women’s health
Growing up, Shah became keenly aware of women’s health issues, starting with her own. “I had so many questions about my body, puberty, and growing up. I want other girls and women to have a safe source of access to this type of information and have confidentiality. I’d like to make those connections as a physician to help to empower women patients and doctors and address the gender gap in medicine.”
During her undergrad years at Arizona State University (ASU), Shah investigated clinical work by volunteering for a clinic team program for refugee education. An alliance between ASU and Mayo Clinic, the ongoing program facilitates information about resources, such as health education and transportation to clinics.
Patient care led the way to medical school
After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Studies, Shah began working as a patient access representative in an emergency room, and as a certified nursing assistant at a rehabilitation center. She developed close relationships with patients. “The patients and residents were like family to me. Our relationships were mutually beneficial. I felt like it was a privilege to care for them and loved it.”
Her interest in a medical career began when she traveled to St. Maarten to visit a cousin who was attending AUC. “She gave me a tour of the campus. I saw all the hard-working students, and I started my application to AUC that night. It was the only school I applied to. Before I knew it, I was in medical school.”
When Shah arrived at AUC, she was impressed by the welcome extended by the students and staff. “I was encouraged by the supportive culture on campus. It’s like a family — and you appreciate that when you’re far from home.”
A community of women in medicine
Shah developed another campus family when she joined the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) at AUC. A national organization of over 10,000 physicians and medical students, the AUC chapter of the AMWA echoes the commitment to improve women’s health and advance the next generation of women leaders in medicine.
The group strives to heighten awareness of women’s health issues through such activities as a mentorship program, lecture series, and community outreach programs. Their fundraising efforts range from a bake sale that donates all proceeds to the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation to a ping pong tournament in support of AMWA’s community partner, Safe Haven, a domestic abuse shelter for women and their children on the island. They also collaborated with the AUC Global Health Interest Group on an initiative with the Ujima Foundation, a sustainable urban development organization providing employability training to orphaned youth.
Now president of the AUC AMWA chapter, Shah has plans to augment the outreach activities of the organization with a community health needs assessment in addition to expanding a research focus. “This would enable us to go out into the community and track health disparities by asking residents about their experiences.”
Shah’s advice for other aspiring women physicians is to be confident in your abilities and develop a broad outlook beyond medical school, such as involvement in a campus organization like AMWA. “Not only does AMWA membership provide perspective on the health care issues that affect women and expand your professional network, but it allows you to make a positive difference.”
Students interested in becoming a member of AMWA can complete a membership form or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The campus chapter has more information about the organization on Instagram at @amwa_auc.
Learn more about clubs and organizations at AUC here.