News

New Director Supports Student Interest in Health Professions

by Bill Giduz
Naila M. Mamoon
Mamoon serves as adviser to the Alpha Epsilon Delta premedical honor society, and is pictured at the group’s recent new member induction ceremony.

Davidson's premedical office has acquired a new name and a new face. The new designation, as the "Premedicine and Allied Health Professions" office, indicates its mandate to help students prepare for a broad range of healthcare careers. The new face is Naila M. Mamoon, who has joined the college as director of the program, succeeding longtime director Professor Jerry Putnam.

The new name indicates that the office will serve not only students who seek medical degrees, but also students interested in other healthcare professions such as osteopathic medicine, podiatry, nursing, naturopathic medicine, physician assistant, physical therapy, occupational therapy, optometry, audiology, orthotics and prosthetics, dentistry and speech pathology.

Mamoon grew up in Bangladesh, and can hardly remember a time when she wasn't teaching. "I've been teaching since fifth grade!" she noted. "As a youngster, I earned a lot of pocket money tutoring the neighborhood kids in math and reading."

She trained as a physician at Sir Salimullah Medical College, and earned bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery degrees from Dhaka University in the nation's capital. Mamoon came to the United States in 1992, settling in Mississippi with her husband, Abulkhair Mamoon, who also is trained as a physician. While in graduate school at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, she conducted research that stirred her interest in molecular biology and biochemistry.

However, she decided to pursue a degree in pharmacology and toxicology because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field. She earned her doctoral degree in 2002 and continued on to teach and conduct research at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine until 2010, when she joined the faculty of Millsaps College, also in Jackson, Miss.

During her three years on the faculty at Millsaps, Mamoon served as the college's first-ever pre-health director, the same position she now holds at Davidson. She also taught courses in cell biology, human anatomy and human physiology, and was the principle investigator for research projects on the role of chronic stress in anxiety and cell differentiation in cancer.

Diving In

Naila M. Mamoon
Mamoon meets with a group of students in the Preyer Building Allied Health Professions office.

Mamoon accepted the position at Davidson largely because she was interested in a career change after 24 years in Mississippi. She was not actively seeking a new job, but became interested when she learned the position was available.

Mamoon believes student interest in the allied health professions is growing in part because of the tremendous job opportunities now available. She also thinks the field of medicine and allied health professions plays to the strengths of Davidson students.

"Healthcare now more than ever is teamwork," she said. "The physician leads the team, but there are important roles for other health professionals. The Davidson curriculum, across the board, emphasizes teamwork and interdisciplinarity. As a result, students are not only well-experienced in working in groups, but also learn to value the contribution of others. In their coursework, they routinely use the knowledge and skills acquired from different disciplines in solving problems. The students here have such diverse interests that they are a lot of fun to talk to. I learn so much from our discussions.''

Mamoon urges students to chart a purposeful course in college.

"I tell students two things," she said. "It's true that medical schools are looking for well-rounded, humane students, but what gets your foot in the door for admission is your grade point average and your MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) score. So you have to be careful while choosing your activities, and not get so involved with extracurriculars that your test scores suffer."

She continued, "I also tell them it's important to develop a personal narrative that reflects their passion for helping others and their commitment to medicine."

Mamoon began working at Davidson this semester, and has been conducting 30-minute meetings with students who register with the office. "I think I've met with more than 100 students by now. I've been talking to them about personal growth-telling them if they focus on being the best person that they can be, the rest will follow," she said.

That goal is supported with specific steps students should follow. The procedure begins with first- and second-year students, who attend small group meetings about course selection, medical volunteering at home and abroad, and research opportunities. Subsequent meetings are one-on-one with the director.

Third-year students prepare for the MCAT, draft a personal essay, arrange for an evaluation by the pre-medicine advisory committee, and participate in practice interviews. The final year includes writing and rewriting personal essays, selecting the medical schools to which they wish to apply, submitting applications and preparing for interviews.

Because Davidson is a nationally prominent school, Mamoon will focus on expanding her contacts with medical and allied health school admission officials. "I expect to travel quite a bit," she said.

Thus far, she has accompanied students to a premedical conference at Wake Forest University, a Missions of Mercy dental sealant clinic in Charlotte and Latino Medical/Premedical Student Conference at Weill Cornell Medical Center. She also attended the Health Professions Advisors of North Carolina annual conference in March and a conference at Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine in April.

She is not teaching classes during her initial semester at Davidson, but expects to teach health science-related courses next academic year. Likewise, she will concentrate her efforts on advising and teaching, and looks forward to mentoring students in research if the opportunity arises.

Her advisory role in allied health also will involve close contact with community agencies where students volunteer. She is impressed by the number of students who volunteer at free community clinics, and plans to become a regular volunteer herself. She also looks forward to becoming involved with the Relay for Life event because it is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the organization that funded her post-doctoral training.

Additionally, Mamoon wants to continue her long-time involvement as a mentor in scholastic science fairs. "I'm passionate about science education, and love to demonstrate to students how science works through helping them design and perform simple inquiry-driven projects," she said.

She's looking forward to the conclusion of the school year, when her husband and 10th grade son will join her in Davidson. Both of the men in her life are involved in scientific research, and plan to involve themselves in studies in the Davidson area.

On a personal basis, Mamoon is enjoying exploring the area and finding good ethnic restaurants. She also enjoys reading, cooking, long walks and is looking forward to hiking in the mountains.