Growing up, Bilan Mohamed loved science. The daughter of a nurse and a teacher with an engineering background, she was always encouraged to follow that passion.
That passion is now taking her to Tufts University School of Medicine — and she was accepted well before finishing her USM undergraduate degree.
“It was very surreal,” Mohamed ‘22 said of her getting the acceptance email. “It felt like a lot of pressure off of me, just because it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for years. As cliche as it sounds, it was like a dream come true.”
A first-generation American, Mohamed was born and raised in Portland. Her love of science turned into a focused interest in medicine after her grandparents came to live with her.
“They had a lot of different health complications that they couldn’t treat back home in Somalia. So I was very fascinated with understanding their disease prognosis and really trying to be there as a grandchild,” she said.
In high school, Mohamed found opportunities to learn about health care, including by job shadowing a doctor.
“I followed him around his office. . . I got to talk with patients,” Mohamed said. “I really felt at home in medicine. It felt like something I was meant to do.”
She started taking classes at USM while still in high school. It made sense for her to continue at USM when the time came — it was close to home, she already had USM credits, and she knew the college.
“It felt super comfortable for me to just continue taking classes here,” she said.
Mohamed not only excelled at USM, she worked to make sure others excelled as well. A couple of years ago, she helped start Melanin in Medicine, a USM group to support students of color within health care.
“Having that background, being Somali and interacting with the health-care system when I was younger, sort of helps me lift up the community with my peers so we can create a more equitable health-care system,” she said.
Mohamed had experience with Tufts, too. As a freshman in high school, she visited its medical center for a conference.
“I really liked seeing all the doctors and everyone working there. It was really fascinating to me and I really just enjoyed being in the building,” she said. “It was my junior year in high school that I learned about the Tufts Early Assurance program.”
Geared toward exceptional students, the Early Assurance program allows undergrads to apply to the Tufts medical school while still in their sophomore year of college. Students don’t have to take the MCAT exam as typically required for medical school, but they do have to show academic excellence.
The program is selective. According to the School of Medicine’s website, Early Assurance receives 40 to 50 applications each year. Of those who meet the minimum requirements, most are invited to interview. About half of those students actually get into the program.
Last fall, just as she was starting her third year at USM, Mohamed learned she was one of the few to be accepted.
“I was in my internship lab and I got the email and I was so nervous to open it. I opened the letter and I was like ‘Yeahhh!’” she said. “I came home and my siblings were all clapping for me as I opened the door and they were like, ‘Yay! You’re going to be a doctor!’ My dad is more nonchalant — he was like, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Mohamed will join Tufts Maine Track, a Maine Medical Center partnership that allows Tufts medical students to spend most of their education and training time in Maine. Founded in 2009, Maine Track was created to address the state’s shortage of doctors, help Maine’s brightest students pursue a career in medicine with fewer financial burdens, and develop a community-based curriculum. Each year, 20 slots are reserved for students with Maine ties.
Mohamed will join her Maine Track class in 2023. However, she will graduate from USM this spring, a full year early. She plans to take a gap year and work.
While she has no medical specialty in mind yet — she’s considered pediatrics in the past, as well as emergency medicine — Mohamed does know that she wants to stay in Maine as a doctor. She wants to be a voice for others.
She said she believes it is “incredibly important to have physicians that represent the populations that they serve and are able to understand the cultural nuances of their patients' lives."
"Ultimately," she said, "I hope to be a physician that is able to connect with underrepresented communities whose needs have often been overlooked.”