By the time she was 16 years old, Tanya Panwala knew she wanted to be a doctor. She wasn’t certain what her specialty would be, but she knew she wanted to be a doctor who fought back against the kind of systemic inequities that she witnessed during childhood trips to see family in Pakistan.
“When we would visit where my parents grew up, I’d usually get sick from food poisoning and end up having to go to a local hospital or clinic, she said. “I saw big differences in the quality of care and the resources that were available in Pakistan,” she said. “It was a lot different than what it was like back home in the U.S.”
Panwala said she noticed multiple patients squeezed into a single hospital room, long waits to be seen by a doctor, unclean drinking water, inadequate medical supplies and priority for care given to people with social status or financial wealth.
“This didn’t sit right with me,” she said. “It made me more aware of the health consequences that happen due to sociocultural factors and it motivated me to try to integrate the lessons and experiences from my identity as a Pakistani Muslim female into the opportunities that I have pursued in medicine and in my education.”
At Georgia State, Panwala has pursued an undergraduate degree in neuroscience with a pre-med concentration. She’s also a student in the Honors College, graduating with an advanced honors distinction in December.
Panwala quickly found ways to merge her love of research with her passion for addressing health disparities. Panwala worked with professor Tricia King as a developmental neuropsychology researcher in a study of brain tumors. She also worked as an intern at Grady Memorial Hospital’s Trauma Project, volunteered at Grady‘s Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center and, when she had time, worked as an English and math tutor with refugee children in Clarkston.
“I learned to find confidence in my voice and my interests,” she said. “Even in the U.S. there are inequalities in terms of identity and sociodemographic factors that ultimately determine how you are treated both in medicine and society in general,” she said. “That really drove how I saw the world and how I wanted to make my own impact on things.”
Panwala has been accepted to several medical schools. She said she has no doubt that she is ready for whatever comes next, perhaps a career in emergency medicine.
“I know that I have developed the right critical thinking and communication skills that I need to integrate research into my future medical education to hopefully better serve my future patients.”