Johns Hopkins Gazette | May 4, 2009
Gazette masthead
   About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 4, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 33
'USA Today' Honors Top Students

Salman Mohammed was recognized for accomplishments that stretch from the Homewood campus to the Baltimore community to a clinic in Pakistan.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Salman Mohammed of JHU is one of 20 named to Academic First Team

By Lisa De Nike

Chat with Salman Mohammed for a few moments and it quickly becomes clear that the 22-year-old senior has little interest in talking about himself. Instead, the psychology major who was born in Pakistan but calls Texas "home" would far rather discuss, among other things, strategies for eliminating the barriers that poor people in the United States and abroad face in accessing quality health care.

"Poverty is all about a lack of access to things, from education and health care to other resources," said Mohammed, who plans to become a doctor. "This is a subject that I am passionate about. This is what motivates me."

Last week, USA Today recognized Mohammed for that passion when he became one of 20 undergraduates nationwide named to the daily newspaper's 2009 All-USA College Academic First Team for outstanding intellectual achievement and leadership. The honor brought with it a $2,500 cash award, a trophy and a photograph in the April 29 edition of USA Today.

Mohammed was recognized for a list of accomplishments that most people twice his age would be proud to claim, including founding an organization that brings students together with members of the surrounding community to foster social change; conducting research on the effectiveness of drug treatment centers based on their physical and social environment, including availability of drugs; helping establish and maintain the first free hemodialysis clinic in his hometown of Hyderabad, Pakistan; serving as an Admissions Office ambassador to prospective Johns Hopkins students; representing his class in the Student Government Association as a senior class senator; fostering community among 38 freshmen in Adams House as a resident adviser; working with fellow students to foster understanding and religious pluralism; and exercising his tenor voice in the Peabody Singers and the Johns Hopkins Medical Chorus.

"I very much appreciate being recognized by USA Today; it's quite humbling," said Mohammed, winner of the university's Chester Wickwire Award for Diversity in 2006, the Johns Hopkins Exemplary Leadership Award in 2006-2007 and a 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Community Service. "The things I have done are a product of how I was raised and what I believe," he said. "As a child I looked up to His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan's vision has led to the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of institutions working to improve the lives and conditions of people in the developing world. Thus, as an Ismaili Muslim, I am passionate about serving my local communities in urban Baltimore and also the larger world community."

Mohammed was only 4 years old when his parents decided to leave their home in Pakistan and make a new life in America. "They lived the American Dream," he said, "coming to the U.S. with almost nothing and building something for themselves and their family."

The early years were difficult: 12 relatives — Mohammed's uncle and his family came with them — crammed into a tiny apartment in the Dallas area, without much money and no health insurance. Mohammed recalls sleeping on the floor and hearing many late-night conversations between stressed parents anxious about a secure future for their kids.

David Verrier, chair of the Office of Pre-Professional Programs & Advising at Johns Hopkins, said, "Salman vividly recalls those early years but not with bitterness. Rather, they have been a powerful stimulus to motivate him to devote his life in the service of others who either are ill, hungry or uneducated. He also feels it was his first exposure to the issue of access to health care, which he continues to be passionate about addressing."

Because of these early experiences, questions of universal access to affordable quality health care are not theoretical for Mohammed; they are something real, a place he has been.

"I know what it's like to be in a situation where your parents have to decide who to treat: your pregnant mother, who needs prenatal care; your brother, who has pneumonia; or you, with a fractured nose," he said. "No parent should be faced with making that kind of decision, but parents here and in other countries face that kind of a dilemma every day. My goal is to work hard and help effect change in that area."

Mohammed is particularly proud of his role in bringing free hemodialysis to poor patients in his native Pakistan. Before coming to Johns Hopkins, he participated in a nine-week clinical program for students held at the Aga Khan University Hospital, where he noticed that many patients were suffering from kidney disease due to a diet high in sodium and a lack of good health care. Years later, he had not forgotten those patients, so during a trip to Pakistan to visit his hometown he set up a meeting with an executive at a large pharmaceutical company who had pledged to donate medications to an earthquake-ravaged area and to rebuild several schools. Mohammed was able to bring together officials from the pharmaceutical company and administrators at a private hospital in Hyderabad to create a clinic that now treats renal dialysis patients and provides them with clean water.

"The clinic today consists of one male and one female doctor, two pharmacists and a ward boy for maintenance of the center," Mohammed said. "We are able to treat one patient at a time, with each hemodialysis treatment lasting approximately two to three hours, and in total we see six patients a day."

Mohammed's astounding success at such a young age has convinced those who know him that whatever he dreams, he will achieve.

"Salman's warmth of personality and generosity of spirit are deeply rooted in the respect he holds for all," said Amy Brokl, a senior admissions officer at Johns Hopkins. "Students, their families, fellow volunteers and especially my colleagues are drawn to this part of him. Throughout my nine years at Johns Hopkins Institutions, I have had the opportunity to work with innumerable students whose eyes were set on medicine, and Salman is one in whom I have unfailing confidence."

Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Homewood campus's Center for Social Concern, calls Mohammed "a promise keeper in the way he approaches life."

"[His] dedication as an undergraduate has a direct bearing on how he will approach his medical education as well as the practice of medicine later in life," Tiefenwerth said.

Mohammed is typically modest when faced with such compliments, and he quickly puts the conversation back where he wants it: on other people.

"I am tremendously grateful for all of the opportunities that I have been given and hope to make the most of them in order to do something to make a difference to other people," he said.

After graduating, Mohammed will apply to medical school and spend the next year in Baltimore, trying to broaden the reach of the Community Building and Social Change group he started at JHU.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |