Shareefah Stanley was just 14 when her father died of cancer. The impact his death had on her was profound in many ways. Already a good student at Roanoke’s Patrick Henry High School, she set two important goals. One was to push herself even harder academically in high school. The other was to attend medical school and become a doctor.

Four years later, Stanley realized her first goal and graduated among the top students in her senior class. In addition, a recent mentorship with Dr. David Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has reinforced her desire to achieve her second goal.

The school’s mentoring program gives select seniors an opportunity to spend a semester shadowing a physician faculty member. Students spend an allotted number of hours with a mentor learning about what it’s like to be a doctor in the real world.

“My mentorship with Dr. Trinkle has definitely affected my life for the better,” Stanley said recently. “Not only did it offer me a firsthand look at the medical field, but it also enriched my outlook on life.”

Over the course of the spring semester of her senior year, Stanley spent 45 hours with Dr. Trinkle and his colleagues at Carilion Clinic’s Center for Healthy Aging, a specialty outpatient clinic that offers services to address the unique needs of older people and brings together specialized teams with expertise in geriatric medicine and psychiatry, counseling, nursing, and nutrition.

She interacted with geriatric patients suffering from such disorders as depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease.

“With each new patient came a new opportunity to truly see the effects of modern medicine and how important a team approach is,” she said. “At the end of each day, I felt as if I had gained a new insight. Seeing patients with declining cognitive abilities made me greater appreciate my own state of mind.”

Program participants not only shadow clinically but also participate in the administration of projects at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine so they develop an appreciation for what medical school is like.

“The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s high school mentorship program is for bright, highly motivated students like Shareefah who are thinking about pursuing medicine,” Dr. Trinkle said. “Our goal is to encourage and support them at a fairly early age, so they’ll be inspired to become successful health care providers in their communities.”

Stanley graduated last May with a 4.3 grade point average, having taken advanced placement courses in calculus, statistics, and chemistry, among others. Her academic honors included numerous awards and scholarships, one of which seemed especially fitting. It was the Rachel Wheaton Achievement Award, which states, “The recipient will have a strong sense of self-purpose and unwavering determination and a dedicated commitment to others.” Wheaton is an assistant principal at Patrick Henry High School and a member of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Community and Diversity Advisory Board.

Stanley will enter the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this month as a biology major with her sights set on someday becoming a surgeon.

“My mentorship was an incredible experience,” she said. “Not only did it give me insights into the medical field, but it also provided me a new lease on life. We have to move through our problems, look for balance in our lives, and live in the here and now.”

Written by Catherine Doss