20 in Their 20s: Hussein Safa

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A medical doctor considers how socioeconomic factors affect our health

Dr. Hussein Safa’s ambitions were shaped by a war. It broke out in 2006 in Lebanon, where he grew up, and he was impressed by the doctors who showed up in his country and risked their lives to provide much-needed medical help.

He later learned the name of their organization: Doctors Without Borders. “When I learned about that, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do. That’s how I want to give back at some point.’”

Today he’s closing in on that ambition, having just finished medical school at Creighton University and preparing to begin his residency at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The idea of giving back was reinforced by his education at Fordham. Grants and scholarships made it possible for him to attend, and the University’s Urban Plunge program fueled his own extraordinary community service efforts, which were recognized by Fordham’s Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice.

At Creighton, he founded an organization to advocate for the needs of LGBTQ patients and providers. And he sought out his residency program because, in addition to its medical training, it teaches community involvement and advocacy so that doctors can better meet the health care needs of urban, diverse populations.

It was Urban Plunge that opened Safa’s eyes to the particular problems facing some urban residents, like a lack of affordable nutritious food.

“Human health doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Safa says, expressing a holistic view reinforced at Fordham and at Creighton, both Jesuit universities that nurture the whole person. “The whole person includes their social environment.”

He feels privileged to have the opportunity to be a doctor and wants to use it for others’ benefit. After completing his three-year residency, which will also include an HIV and global health track, Safa plans to join Doctors Without Borders so he can help people in distressed areas, regardless of whether they can pay for health care. He himself didn’t have health insurance until he came to the United States with his parents and settled in Staten Island just before his 17th birthday.

“I know what it’s like to be constantly afraid that you’re going to get sick and you don’t have money for it,” he says. “That’s part of the reason that I want to give back.”

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