Fostering connection

The organization that kept this med student grounded during COVID-19

“[The Student Osteopathic Medical Association] gave me a sense of direction and purpose in a very, very isolating and weird year,” says Nicholas Harriel, OMS III, who recently became SOMA’s president.

When COVID-19 hit the U.S. and upended daily life, Nicholas Harriel, OMS III, leaned into his commitment to the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) and the students he had connected with through the organization.

“The camaraderie between my peers kept me centered, even when the idea of the future was disorienting,” he says.

On March 6, Nicholas Harriel, OMS III, became SOMA president. SOMA aims to educate and prepare future leaders and advocates within the osteopathic medical profession on both national and campus levels.

In this edited Q&A, Harriel discusses his top priorities for his one-year term, how he first got involved with SOMA and how the organization has helped him maintain a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.

What are some of your priorities as you start your term?

We also just solidified our strategic plan for the next three years, which includes some very robust projects and what should be rewarding, impactful goals to achieve.

We will hit the ground running and work to better incorporate diversity within our structure, strengthen our affiliate and stakeholder relationships, expand our affiliate and partner relationships, and begin groundbreaking work to strengthen our connections with SOMA Alumni and PreSOMA (premed) organizations.

How did you first become involved with SOMA?

I first became involved in the SOMA chapter at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University. In the first few years that the chapter had existed, members established an after-school program with an elementary school, volunteered countless hours in the commmunity, and worked with institutions to educate the area and future DO candidates on the principles of osteopathic medicine.

Some of our founding members went on to join National SOMA, and I was inspired by our short but rich legacy of “movers and shakers.” These were students who were just as dedicated to their studies as they were to their school, peers and community.

I wanted to give back and engage with the community in the same way.

How has SOMA helped you stay connected during the pandemic?

SOMA has kept me grounded during the pandemic. At the national level, it gave me a sense of direction and purpose in a very, very isolating and weird year.

Over the past year, my peers and I did the following, among many other things:

  • Advocated on multiple issues immediately facing our student colleagues
  • Educated premed students on the amazing aspects of osteopathic medicine
  • Created opportunities for academic development by holding research symposiums
  • Delivered resources to those applying to residency
  • Offered multiple virtual wellness opportunities to help break down the walls of isolation
  • Provided training to help fight the opioid crisis

SOMA has given me family, hope and direction, and it has been a means to improve the lives of my peers, patients and future profession. Perhaps most importantly this past year, SOMA gave my peers and me a sense of normalcy.

What advice do you have for students looking to get more involved?

Our chapters do amazing work within their schools and communities. It is also where a great deal of personal and professional growth occurs in order to prepare members who will go on to become leaders within National SOMA and the osteopathic profession.

There are a lot of benefits to seeking involvement within a chapter early into one’s medical school career. Once you get started there, National SOMA offers an array of opportunities in advocacy, programming, and service. These are perfect openings for medical students at all levels in their education.

I encourage my peers to reach out to their chapters and look for ways they can grow with them. When they are ready, National SOMA will be there to help them take their advocacy and leadership to the next level.

Related reading:

Recent advocacy wins combat professional discrimination against DO trainees

Advocacy in action: SOMA president talks about what med students want

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