Written by Xylina Marshall, Communications Coordinator for the Honors and Scholars Programs
Growing up with two doctors for parents and a laser focus on her future, it seems almost inevitable that Imani Chatman is now in her third year at the Quillen School of Medicine in Johnson City. Over the years, however, she has been driven by a source of interest in medicine much stronger than a family tradition: a passion for people. By the time she graduated high school, Chatman knew in which direction she wanted to take her life and began actively seeking out experiences that would get her there. It was at this time that she found the Haslam Scholars Program.
When reflecting on her time as a Haslam Scholar, Chatman recalls that it was the program that made UT a possibility for her. Once here, she remembers thinking that it was “a special thing to be in a program where we had specific courses set for us that we could all take together.” That same cohort model produced an environment where Chatman says “we all wanted to push each other [to do our best]. There was a group willingness to do well and be ambassadors for the school.” Ultimately, the Haslam Scholar experience prepared her well for her pursuit of medicine. Chatman says, ” It was important for me to figure out how to be a self-starter. I’m in a part of medical school where I get out as much as I put in. If I’m not looking for extra opportunities to stay late and find out as much about my patient, I’m losing out and the patient is losing out. Haslam [Scholars ] got me in that mindset of working your butt off.”
After graduating as a Haslam Scholar, Chatman secured a spot in Quillen’s 2015 entering class. Because of the small size of the program, she is once again enjoying the individualized attention and guidance of dedicated mentors, staff, and peers. One significant piece of advice she received from a mentor was to “learn how to be a good generalist first before worry[ing] about specializing and doing something specific.” With this piece of advice, Chatman has stepped into her clinical rotations with an open mind. So far she has completed rotations in family medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and surgery. Chatman says what she has enjoyed most about the rotations and medical school, in general, has been “the opportunity to continue to learn.” “Every day I get to see interesting things and learn more about how to practice medicine and provide great care to patients. [No matter the practice area], I am excited every day to go do that.”
When pressed on which rotation she’s enjoyed the most so far, Chatman admits that her first interest, obstetrics and gynecology, still holds a special place in her heart. Growing up with an OBGYN for a mother, Chatman has already spent a large amount of time in the labor and delivery unit, a place where she feels comfortable to this day. Beyond this affinity, Chatman says one aspect of obstetrics and gynecology that most excites her is “the idea of continuity of care.” Reflecting on this idea she says, “You can take care of generations of families. You can take care of someone throughout their life. You can start seeing them as a teenager and still see them through their third baby. You also might be the only person they see that year, so you have to make sure they are good to go overall not just in your area.”
This sense of responsibility for others ties directly into Chatman’s experience as a Haslam Scholar. Of the program’s four pillars, social responsibility resonates with her the most. She defines social responsibility as “getting involved in people’s lives, trying to help, and meeting them at their level.” Chatman says what’s really important to her “is taking in the whole patient when considering treatment. It’s not always medical issues you’re treating, you have to be aware of the entire person. [That includes] where they live, [where they] work, and what resources they have.” Chatman began to fully understand this concept during her service as one of the founders of the Food Recovery Network (FRN) at UT. FRN serves the Knoxville community by recovering food from university and other large events to help address food insecurity. Chatman said considering what resources those who lived in food deserts had while working with FRN now strongly encourages her to take the resources her patients have into consideration when making recommendations. Chatman hopes this practice will encourage her patients to pursue care because they have seen that someone has taken the time to consider what is feasible of them.
Meeting people where they are is also what inspires Chatman’s passion for health education. She believes that “a lot of materials assume a certain level of education, which if [patients] don’t have [that level of education] makes the materials pretty useless.” To help address this issue, for example, Chatman works through an OBGYN group to speak to high schools about sexually transmitted infections and contraception. In her opinion, “any time you can talk to someone and give them more information that’s a win.” She continues this people-oriented style of leadership in her role as class president and as a member of the board for the step one exam, where she serves as a liaison between medical students and the entity that designs medical school exams. Chatman looks forward to the next steps in her career and encourages current Haslam Scholars to continue to get involved at UT and develop skills that will serve them no matter what paths they choose to pursue.