SMHS Alumnus Honors His Mother by Helping a Nurse

Sormeh Harounzadeh, SMHS ’17
October 31, 2016

Upon graduating from medical school, young physicians frequently begin their careers burdened by significant debt. To address this issue, GW’s Adopt-a-Doc program was established in 2010 to offer alumni and friends the opportunity to support a student throughout four years of medical school. One such benefactor is Thomas Barnett, MD ’87, who provides financial assistance to Sormeh Harounzadeh, SMHS ’17, a registered nurse and 2017 Doctor of Medicine candidate at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“My wife and I heard about the Adopt-a-Doc program and felt that helping a specific medical student would be a neat thing to do,” says Barnett, who runs a private surgical practice and is president and CEO of the Eden Hill Medical Center in Dover, Delaware. “I was thrilled to learn not only that a nurse had been selected as our Adopt-a-Doc, but one that had also been a nurse in New York City.”

Sormeh’s tenure as a nurse was particularly exciting to the Barnetts because Barnett’s mother, the late Josephine M. Barnett, was also a nurse—in New York City. In 1942, Barnett worked as a nurse at a VA hospital located in the Bronx, although her formal working career ended in May 1943 when she got married and started a family. After her children were grown, she spent two decades as a volunteer hospice nurse, working with sick and dying patients. Due to financial and time constraints, Barnett’s mother was unable to attend medical school, which is one reason he was motivated to support Sormeh. “I learned early on that nurses were the true caregivers,” he says.

Indeed, it was Sormeh’s compassion for patients that called her to be a nurse. “During high school I volunteered in a research lab at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center,” she says. “I was particularly drawn to the nursing role and its emphasis on patient advocacy and being present at the bedside.” While enrolled in the nursing program at the University of Pennsylvania, a rotation in the emergency department helped Sormeh make the decision to pursue a career in medicine. “In the emergency department, I observed the cohesiveness of the team, which felt like a great fit for me,” she says.

Sormeh is currently applying to emergency medicine residency programs, where she hopes to work with diverse and underserved populations. According to Sormeh, “The role of the emergency department physician is to not only treat, but to educate community members on navigating the American health care system.”

“I was thrilled and honored to be chosen for this scholarship,” she goes on to say, “but also to see that a physician in the community so strongly values my nursing background. I would like to send my endless gratitude to [Barnett] and his family for this generous gift, and to assure him that I will always remember my roots as a nurse to provide my patients with compassion and to be a positive force in the face of illness.”

Apparently, gratitude works both ways. “We received a beautiful ‘thank you’ letter from Sormeh,” says Barnett. “Helping another in a small way is the thing in life that brings joy and happiness to the giver.” —Mary Follin