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Trilingual medical student and future emergency medicine doctor advocates for refugees

Omar Taweh is working to support refugees, pursuing emergency medicine and passionately advocating for social justice.

“I’m queer, I’m Arab, I’m a type 1 diabetic,” said Taweh, a fourth-year student in the T.H. Chan School of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School. “I have a lot of privilege, but I also am a member of multiple minority groups that make me more aware of the injustice in the world.”

Taweh is the director of communications for the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project. Founded in 2010 by a student in the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing to support the Burmese population fleeing violence in Myanmar, WRAP has since expanded its efforts to include support of Afghan and Haitian population in Worcester. In addition, Taweh volunteers as a photographer for the New Haven, Connecticut-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services. For seven years, Taweh has run in the organization’s annual 5K race, which fundraises for refugee resettlement work such as English lessons for immigrants, food pantries and refugee education. This year, he gathered 28 registrants from UMass Chan to join the race.

“I want everyone to have the American dream they’re hoping for,” Taweh said.

Taweh grew up in Connecticut and Beirut, where his parents are from. He earned degrees in neurobiology, psychology and human rights at the University of Connecticut. Upon graduation, he lived in Jordan on a Fulbright student research scholarship, working with Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in Amman and Zaatari, the biggest refugee camp in Jordan. While there, he discovered his love for medicine and applied to medical school. In March, he matched in emergency medicine at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“I want to learn not only why my patient broke their foot, but why they kept walking on it after it was broken,” Taweh said. “If it’s connected to their socioeconomic status, I’ve suddenly uncovered a whole bucket of worms. The emergency department isn’t going to solve that right away, but it’s at least the place where we can document its presence and make patients feel safe.”

Taweh embraces adventure, most recently backpacking through Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Chile to sharpen his Spanish skills. He speaks English, Spanish and Arabic.

“I climbed Patagonia. I rode a horse for the first time. I went to the biggest nightclub in South America,” Taweh said. “I came back confident that I can take care of patients in Spanish.”

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.