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International Medicine for the Masses

Photo of Edward Robinson wearing a gray suit with a blue shirt. He is standing in front of greenery.

“As a future neurosurgeon, it’s incredibly important to participate in research with the goal of finding novel ways to help preserve the minds and bodies of our most vulnerable communities and restore trust between healers and patients.”

Born into a military family, Edward Robinson – a fourth-year student at Morehouse School of Medicine – grew up in Italy, but he wants to help transform health care in the U.S. after connecting with and receiving the Dr. Prentiss Taylor Scholarship from National Medical Fellowships.

“Medicine called to me as a direct way to help people in difficult situations and gain translatable skills applicable in all areas of the world. Thankfully, with the help of NMF, being able to base my career decisions on that — rather than worrying about financial hardship — has allowed me to reach my full potential.”

As a child, Robinson became well acquainted with military medical staff after suffering from eczema and various food allergies. He particularly remembers feeling more at ease under the care of a Black physician and U.S. Army Captain.

“The opportunity to receive care from people who directly represent your experience is truly unforgettable.”

But his doctor was not his only role model.

“My mother worked as a community leader and teacher at a local immigrant rights center, helping those struggling with documentation issues, deportation risks, poor health, and housing crises,” Robinson said. “I want to continue the work my mother accomplished with those who are most vulnerable, so a career where I can improve the lives of underserved communities would be most fulfilling.”

Robinson began his academic career, though, playing basketball in Italy: “When you’re in your 20s, your hometown can feel a bit small,” he said.

So, Robinson traveled to the U.S. in 2014 and attended Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin for a change of pace.

“I got involved with many organizations, met wonderful mentors, and became part of the community,” he said.

However, due to his particular interest in science and a desire for a smaller school, he transferred to and graduated from Tufts University, in Boston, with a Bachelor’s in biology.

“I then realized there was a part of me, my African-American part, that I was never fully able to grow into while growing up in Italy,” Robinson said. “It was a part of my identity that I wanted to better understand.”

By applying to and attending Morehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, Robinson said he feels he’s gained a greater understanding of the public health issues facing Black and Brown communities in the U.S.

“The school’s mission to equitably serve vulnerable populations aligns with mine,” he said, “and they certainly emphasize the importance of patient-doctor communication, social determinants of health, and community-based care on overall patient outcomes.”

Robinson is the founder and former president of the school’s Black Men in White Coats chapter, where he established collaborations with the Association of American Medical College’s Black Male Physicians Initiative and the Emory School of Medicine’s Summer Science Academy to both identify the barriers hindering Black men from applying to medical school and mentor high school students underrepresented in STEM.

“It was a way to give back to an organization that inspired me while I was growing up in Europe” said Robinson.

He is also in his third and final year of the Johnson & Johnson/NMF Alliance for Inclusion in Medicine (AIM) service-learning program.

“Being the first cohort of the program is a great honor. Along with fellow M.D. students from all over the United States, we engage in various discussions and seminars that center around leadership, technology, public health and professional development.”

As a result of the pandemic, we are trying to better understand not only want it means to work as an M.D. in the pharma industry and what types of contributions we physicians can make, but also, we’re learning more about drug and vaccine developments and study designs,” he said.

“I’ve also been able to discuss with J&J leadership ways to involve students of color in earlier stages of training.”

Upon graduation, Robinson intends to become a neurosurgery resident due in part to his continued research into post-stroke cognitive care after COVID-19.

“Black and Brown communities have been particularly affected by the virus, and many of these patients are suffering even more long-term effects and health complications afterward,” he said.

Robinson is also working as a research associate in the Neurosurgery Department at Cedars-Sinai medical center in Los Angeles, California, searching for early markers of Alzheimer’s in the retina:

“We hope to develop cheaper, more effective, less invasive and more accurate ways to diagnose the disease. In the near future, a simple eye exam could be used as a screening tool for Alzheimer’s.”

Making medicine easier for patients is very important to Robinson.

“It’s tough for vulnerable patients in the U.S. to come back to clinics, continue to afford medicine, or pay for lengthy rehabilitations,” he said. “In Italy, health care is universal, but here, health care issues are due in part to affordability and access.”

Social determinants of health vastly differ, too.

“We have widespread access to high-quality food, green spaces, and health care in Italy, but here – especially in neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic status – those determinants are much less favorable,” Robinson said.

Stigma against science and medicine, however, exists in both areas of the world.

“Iatrophobia – fear of the healer – cripples both nations because it’s difficult to overcome,” Robinson said. “My grandmother, who suffered from diabetes, for example, was terrorized by going to the doctor because of previous experiences with health care and ultimately passed away because of that fear.”

It’s why we need as many diverse minds as possible focusing on issues of health equity, he added.