Medical student Hana Habchi has been awarded the 2022 Sara Crews Finley, M.D., Endowed Leadership Scholarship, which provides full tuition for the third year of medical school and is renewable for the fourth year. The scholarship is awarded annually to a rising third-year student who has excelled in academics, service, and leadership. It honors Sara Crews Finley, M.D., who co-founded the first medical genetics program in the Southeast with her husband, Wayne H. Finley, M.D., Ph.D., and served as co-director of the Laboratory of Medical Genetics at UAB for more than 30 years. Not only does the scholarship honor Finley for her contributions to the field of genetics, but it also recognizes her leadership and community service.
Habchi’s achievement will be recognized on August 14 at the Heersink School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony, with members of the Finley family, who established the scholarship in 2015, in attendance. Habchi will be presented with a new white coat bearing a special insignia identifying her as the Sara Crews Finley, M.D., Leadership Scholar.
“After two years of conducting interviews over Zoom due to COVID-19, our scholarship selection committee truly enjoyed getting to know each finalist this year on a more personal level,” said Sara J. Finley, daughter of Sara Crews and Wayne Finley. “Every single candidate impressed us with their engagement, personal values, accomplishments, and commitment to patient care.
“We were so proud to select Hana Habchi as this year’s scholarship recipient. My mother excelled in academics, leadership, and service, and Hana clearly shares these same attributes. She has consistently exemplified servant leadership, whether as student body president, basketball team captain, a dedicated volunteer supporting individuals with disabilities, or clinic director at Equal Access Birmingham. We welcome Hana to our extraordinary group of scholars and look forward to following her future success and the success of all of this year’s scholarship finalists.”
Sara Crews Finley, M.D., was a trailblazer for women in medicine, and, as someone who champions women’s empowerment, Habchi says it is an honor to be associated with her legacy.
“Physicians do not always use their power and privilege to elevate the health of their community, but that was not the case in Dr. Finley’s story. She honored that responsibility every day throughout her life by her dedication to advancing genetics research for future generations.”
Here she shares how she first became interested in medicine, what it means to join the ranks of Sara Crews Finley, M.D., Leadership Scholars, and advice for the upcoming physicians.
The Importance of Family
Hana Habchi’s parents immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the late 1970s to attend college and later planted roots in Madison, Alabama, where Habchi and her two siblings were born and raised. While she had a fortunate upbringing, being Lebanese American brought its own challenges, one of which was the responsibility she felt to do great things to honor her family and their sacrifice.
Habchi has a strong connection with her family, which she cherishes every day. At every step of her life, she uses the lessons from her family members to drive her success.
“I owe everything about who I am today to my family,” Habchi said. “From my dad, I learned a commitment to excellence and providing for my community. My mom taught me selflessness, and my sister, Kristina, introduced me to public health and advocacy. My brother, Deeb, taught me immense resilience and a never-ceasing love for others.”
When Habchi was applying to college, she had no intention of staying in Alabama. At first, she thought leaving the state was the only way for her to experience a culturally diverse environment and engage with people who valued health equity.
“However, when I was accepted to UAB’s Early Medical School Acceptance Program, my plans changed,” she said. “It did not take me long to realize that Birmingham was exactly where I needed to be.”
Throughout her undergraduate years at UAB, Habchi learned about the history of health inequality in the South.
“Too often, I think people see the South as ‘hopeless’ or ‘too far gone’ to achieve equity and better community health,” she said. “At a superficial glance, people do not see the organizations and community leaders who have been working to take care of their neighbors here for generations.”
As she learned more about this history and the work that remains, her interest in primary care and public health blossomed. “When it came time to think about medical school, I knew I wanted to stay in Birmingham and continue to learn how to serve this community,” Habchi said.
Interest in Medicine
Growing up with a sibling who has a disability instilled a deep commitment to fairness and service in Habchi.
“As a child, I saw medicine as the first way to champion those values,” she said.
Public health studies exposed her to the big picture of improving community health. She fostered her interest in medicine through learning opportunities in several community-focused primary care clinics locally and abroad. There, she saw primary care as a powerful intersection between public health and medicine.
“Primary care providers have a unique opportunity to champion preventative health and increased access to care,” she said. “They have the privilege to shape a community’s relationship with health care, and this is a responsibility I am excited to shoulder in the future.”
Throughout her life, Habchi sought extra-curricular activities that championed leadership and service. From middle school until her senior year of college, student government was consistently a part of her life. Habchi served as president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, where she led the creation a textbook scholarship program for those in need and the university’s first COVID-19 relief grant.
“Beyond the project-specific work, the opportunity to aid my peers in developing their leadership skills was most rewarding,” she said.
Volunteering was also a big part of Habchi’s undergraduate experience. She served in the AmeriCorps VISTA program for the City of Birmingham in college, where she implemented a healthy habits project for summer campers at Central Park’s recreation center. “This experience taught me that true service is a partnership that prioritizes relationship building, not saviorism,” she said.
During the first two years of medical school, she served as a director of Equal Access Birmingham, the Heersink School of Medicine’s student-run free clinic, where many students see patients for the first time.
“My role allowed me to emphasize the importance of inclusive patient care as students developed their foundation of clinical skills,” Habchi says.” It is one thing to know about health inequities, but to meet and serve the people who are experiencing the gaps in our system is so much more important.”
Advice to Fellow Medical Students
Becoming a physician is a long and challenging journey. However, there are two principles that Habchi says can help aspiring physicians.
Throughout medical training, it is natural to struggle with thoughts of inadequacy, Habchi says. First, remember that, “we too are human,” Habchi says. Medicine is one of the most demanding careers, and according to her, sometimes students feel held to an impossible standard.
“In those moments, remember that you are allowed to give yourself grace,” she said. “You will not be able to take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself.”Habchi advises that it is vital to start learning how to advocate for and care for yourself early on.
Second, a physician’s number one purpose is to serve their community, and Habchi believes that it is crucial to remember that this path is not about oneself.
“Patients do not expect perfection; they expect a willingness to learn, listen, and advocate for them, she says. “Remembering this will make it easy to go the extra mile for your patients.”