For Mohamed Elfadl, an MPH student in San Antonio, getting a public health degree is just one more piece of his diverse and impressive journey as a medical professional and international citizen. Born in Sudan and raised for part of his childhood in Saudi Arabia, Elfadl’s trajectory eventually led him to Houston, when he won a visa through the diversity lottery program and got the chance to come to the U.S.
Before coming to the U.S., Elfadl completed his medical degree overseas at the University of Khartoum in Sudan and had worked in public health as a licensed physician for years all over Africa. So, when he arrived in Houston in 2015, he put his medical background to use with jobs as a pharmacy technician and medical legal interpreter, translating information into Arabic for refugees from Syria and the Middle East.
Knowing that his medical degree would not be recognized in the U.S., Elfadl began planning to take the three major exams that would enable him to practice medicine. His journey to getting his medical license took a detour in 2017 when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army after conversations with friends about the military's potential for personal and professional growth.
“My friends, who were engineers in the military, shared that the military had a robust medical branch, and that it would give me opportunities for my education and career," Elfadl said.
After completing his military training in San Antonio for his role in the Army as a mental health technician, Elfadl shipped out for Germany in 2019. Elfadl spent the next four years there, and applied his medical expertise during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in vaccination campaigns and supporting his fellow soldiers’ mental health.
"The military puts a lot of effort into caring for the soldiers’ mental health,” Elfadl said. “Every military base usually has multiple clinics, including individual mental health clinics.”
The Army’s mental health technicians like Elfadl are the frontline of support for soldiers’ mental well-being as they cope with stressful situations in the fast-paced environment of the military, he said. The soldiers were sent to Elfadl first when they arrived at the clinic, and after listening and learning their stories, he was able to guide them to a psychiatrist or psychologist on staff for treatment.
“I have worked in so many different populations,” Elfadl said. “I’ve worked in the Middle East and Africa and now with the military, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people with diverse backgrounds.”
Following the completion of his military service in early 2023, Elfadl decided to embark on a new academic journey during the process and enrolled in the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health’s MPH program with the goal of combining his medical knowledge with a public health perspective. Elfadl still plans to pursue medicine, and eventually work as a psychiatrist, with plans to take the first of the medical licensing exams next summer, and the next in between his fall and spring semesters of 2024 and 2025. If all goes well, he will be fully licensed as a practicing physician by the time he finishes his MPH.
As he forges ahead with his public health degree and looks toward a future in mental health, Elfadl said he will carry with him valuable lessons from his military service, and he believes it will make him a better person and healthcare provider.
"In the military, you are part of a big thing,” he said. “You learn all this discipline and to always just stay focused and stay calm and see the bigger picture all the time.”