As a teenager in Baltimore, Nechama Sonenthal had to grow up fast after her older sister fell into a coma and later needed life-saving brain surgery. That didn’t stop Sonenthal from serving her community while in high school and then traveling to Israel to train with first responders in Jerusalem.
That record of community service stretching all the way to Arizona has led to a scholarship for Sonenthal, who has just completed her second year at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Phoenix.
“In my eyes, the ultimate goal of community service is to offer an equal, healthy and safe opportunity for all people to be able to pursue their own life happiness and achievements,” Sonenthal wrote in her application for the Shirley Curson Medical Scholarship from the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation.
The merit-based scholarship is a minimum $10,000 biennial award to help fund Jewish second-year medical students attending the UA College of Medicine in either Tucson or Phoenix. The late Shirley Curson provided the funds for the scholarship, which is available through the UA Hillel Foundation.
Qualified applicants must exhibit a personal history of social or civic responsibility and involvement. The scholarship will apply to the scholar’s third and fourth years of medical school.
Sonenthal said her family’s service in the U.S. military since World War II, along with persecution her family suffered during the Holocaust and prejudice she and family members experienced in the United States, inspired her to pursue a course of service.
“I have never let hatred directed toward me be internalized and turned toward others,” Sonenthal wrote. “I concluded at a young age that others’ hatred of entire groups of people is short-sighted, and that I would respond by viewing each person as an individual. Every individual has a right to be proud of who they are, including myself. I remained proud of my Jewish identity, and encourage everyone around me to be proud of who they are, regardless of their specific background.”
Sonenthal began volunteering in high school in Baltimore, served in Jerusalem as part of a school program and later worked with Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross). In Israel, she noted, she saw patients of varying faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds. She continued to volunteer during college, serving as a tutor and with the Red Cross Club at Arizona State University.
At the College of Medicine — Phoenix, Sonenthal took on several outreach programs as part of the Community Health Initiative of Phoenix, the medical school’s service learning initiative. This included starting a social justice group whose ideas and clinical interventions were incorporated into the medical school curriculum.
“The Hillel Foundation is very pleased to be able to offer financial assistance to medical students — in particular, funding those students choosing to practice general medicine, an area of medicine that competes to lure medical students to their ranks from the high salaries offered in medical specialties such as cardiology and plastic surgery,” said Michelle Blumenberg, executive director of the UA Hillel Foundation.