A global journey to a new home for medical education
A first-year student from Ethiopia finds the support she needs at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
Growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Maedot Haymete realized early in her life how gaps in health care availability can lead to dire consequences.
“I can’t actually remember a time when I went to see a doctor growing up, and for me that might have simply meant that I was a pretty healthy child,” Haymete said. “I didn’t really have any medical emergencies, but for other people in my extended family and people in my community, it actually meant missing critical management windows for preventable and treatable diseases.”
Haymete worked with medically underserved mothers in her country who suffered from childbirth complications because they did not have access to restorative gynecological surgeries that are considered standard care in the West. That experience helped her resolve to become a physician and plan to focus on global public health. After being offered acceptance to 10 highly ranked medical schools across the United States, including an Ivy League institution, Haymete decided to begin her journey at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM).
“I was drawn to the smaller size of the school, similar to Amherst College where I went for my undergraduate. I was also drawn to the dedicated domains for Research and Health Systems Science and Interprofessional Practice. Finances were also a major determinant of where I would end up,” Haymete said. “When I immigrated to the U.S. alone as an international student, I didn’t really have any financial support. I worked two to three jobs every semester throughout my undergraduate program to support myself.”
After graduating from Amherst, Haymete wanted to take the MCAT Exam, the national medical school entrance exam, and apply to medical schools but could not afford the process. She was not eligible for a fee assistance program with the Association of American Medical Colleges because she was not yet a permanent resident. While awaiting the green card that would grant her financial support via the fee assistance program, she took multiple gap years and worked for pharmaceutical companies in Northern Virginia. She was then able to afford her primary and secondary applications to medical schools. She received generous financial support offers from the other medical schools, but VTCSOM stood out.
“I found out that I was selected for the James R. Smith Family Charitable Foundation Scholarship and that really solidified my decision to come here,” Haymete said. “One of my goals when choosing a medical school was to go somewhere affordable for me and my family, where I wouldn’t have to take out high loans. This scholarship allowed me to cover my tuition and fees and also a significant portion of my day-to-day living expenses. It has been such a relief knowing that I don’t have to constantly be thinking about my financial obligations.”
Smith, a Roanoke native and Virginia Tech alumnus, along with his wife, Augustine, are among the earliest and strongest benefactors of the school. He led the medical school’s first board of directors, which provided strategic direction during a critically important time in the early years of VTCSOM.
“Supporting the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine allowed Augustine and I to advance our alma mater, support our community, and enhance the healthcare delivery,” Smith said. “Exploring the Future requires an investment in our educational institutions and the students dedicated to helping others.”
VTCSOM has continued to build a national reputation for its high-achieving students and for selectivity, attracting a record number of 6,916 applicants for its 49 spots in the Class of 2026. Students in the class represent 16 states, and they come from 37 undergraduate institutions. Scholarship support continues to be critical to compete with other nationally renowned medical schools for talented students.
“Our reputation is growing nationally and our alumni, who graduate and secure prestigious residencies are a big part of helping us spread the word,” said Melanie Prusakowski, associate dean for admissions. “Financial support like scholarships help us level the playing field with more established medical schools and attract the best and brightest students.”
Haymete searched broadly for her medical school destination, researching dozens of top institutions across the country. Ultimately, she found what she wanted at VTCSOM to becoming a physician and making a positive impact on global health. She also found her new home.
“I really like Roanoke, it feels surprisingly familiar. Everyone is so nice and friendly; they actually say ‘Hi’ to me and try to engage in small talk, which I’m not really used to from living in the Washington, D.C., area for a while,” Haymete said. “The only thing I haven’t found yet here is an Ethiopian restaurant, but I haven’t given up looking.”