Alan Amedi is a Kurdish-American medical student who was born in the U.S. immediately after his parents arrived in the U.S. as Kurdish refugees. Alan will be attending the Emory School of Medicine this fall—likely as one of the first Kurds to do so. He has also been active in the Kurdish American Medical Association’s COVID-19 public health campaign aimed at keeping Kurdish communities informed and safe.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
In 1996, my parents fled Kurdistan with the help of the United States as part of Operation Pacific Haven. They went through a lengthy vetting process in Guam and finally settled in Clarkston, Georgia, as refugees in 1997. I was born only five months after they arrived. Since refugees from all over the world go to Clarkston, my parents were able to easily assimilate to the United States. I really enjoyed growing up there because I was surrounded by people like me or my parents. We were all different and came from various places, but our desire for a better life and future brought us together as a community. Growing up in Georgia, Kurdish traditions and culture were instilled in my siblings and me. We spoke Kurdish at home and ate Kurdish food every day. Nothing beats my mom’s tirshik.
In the eyes of Kurds in Kurdistan, I am an American. In the eyes of Americans, I am a Kurd. However, I consider myself a Kurdish American. I consider myself Kurdish first because of how I was raised. I have a deep longing for a united country to call home that is impervious to corruption and recognized by the rest of the world. And I am American because I was raised in the United States and living here has given me opportunities that would be impossible elsewhere. The United States provided a safe home for my family and allowed me to receive a robust education to help my family and my community.
What has your experience been like, as a Kurd in the U.S.?
As a Kurd in the United States, people will always ask where you are from. And the answer you have will be well rehearsed. I am constantly telling people about what Kurdistan is and how it is different from Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan—but I do not mind. I love telling anyone I meet about who I am. Of course—like many Middle Eastern people in America have experienced—some will make prejudiced remarks. The key is to ignore that type of behavior, hold your head up high, and keep moving forward. Overall, I am very thankful that my parents found refuge in the states. America is the land of opportunity, and if taken advantage of successfully, the benefits are priceless and will impact generations to come.
There are a number of large Kurdish communities in the United States. The Kurdish community in Georgia is on the smaller side—but through social media and technology, it is easy to connect with Kurds from all over the world.
Can you tell us what motivated you to study medicine?
There were many factors that led to my decision to pursue a career in medicine. All of my experiences combined led to my ultimate decision to become a physician, but I seriously considered becoming a doctor during my first year of college. I was always interested in science and the human body. But it was when I saw the picture of Alan Kurdi in the New York Times that something changed inside of me. As I stared at the image of Alan—my namesake and who was also my brother’s age—a deep sense of purpose in my community’s journey towards justice enveloped me. I felt a desire to rise up within me. I have been fortunate to receive an incredible education, and I knew that I could leverage this foundation to pursue medicine as an avenue to help my people and others in need.
Throughout college, my physiology and anatomy courses made me fall in love with the human body and how it operates. This further motivated me to become a doctor. I also shadowed many physicians in clinics and hospitals, which gave me insight into what it takes to become a doctor.
On my journey, I’ve had the privilege of being mentored by inspiring clinicians and teachers who have nurtured my dream to become a doctor. Each one has left an indelible mark on me. One such clinician is Dr. Heval Kelli, a fellow Kurd. When I formally decided to pursue medicine, I thought about Dr. Kelli’s journey. I thought that if he could do it, why can’t I? Dr. Kelli took me under his wing and has helped me every step of the way. His confidence and belief in me from the very start has motivated me to continue pushing forward, despite any obstacles that come my way. This fall, I will start at Emory School of Medicine. I hope that I can pay it forward, as many have done for me.
How are you coping with the COVID-19 situation—especially as a medical student? Are you also doing work to raise awareness in your community?
I planned to travel a lot this summer, ahead of starting medical school. Of course, that has not been possible due to COVID-19. However, the virus has given me time to enjoy things that I usually would not have time to do—such as learning the guitar and reading more books. I am proud to be a part of the Kurdish American Medical Association (KAMA), an organization that is doing incredible work around COVID-19 prevention in the Kurdish community. Early into the pandemic, we quickly discussed ways we could empower our Kurdish people about their health and help them stay safe. As part of the KAMA COVID-19 Public Campaign, I helped create flyers in English based on guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and translated them to Kurdish. KAMA has also been hosting many Facebook live sessions with COVID victims or workers on the frontlines. The live sessions are a fantastic way to engage the community and help reduce the amount of false information that is circulating social media. We are excited to keep this important work going to keep our Kurdish community informed, healthy, and safe.