Growing up in a small town can make opportunities seem limited.
But EHS alumnus Dr. Joseph Ibrahim visited history and health science students Thursday with a different message.
“You guys have every opportunity in the world,” he said. “I want you to realize you can go anywhere and do anything – you just have to take advantage of the opportunities given to you.”
Ibrahim grew up and graduated from Elizabethton and East Tennessee State University and is now the trauma medical director at Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center. He supervised intake and treatment of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting and now teaches mass casualty preparation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several medical organizations and universities.
Ibrahim spoke to students about how growing up in a small town made him feel limited. Through medical school and once he began his career, he experienced self-doubt.
“I kept thinking, ‘Man, this is a lot for someone as young as me. I’m just a kid from Elizabethton. Can I really do this?’ And you can do it. You guys can do all kinds of things.”
He said the same things that made him feel too-small-town for big roles are the things that have benefitted him most. He said he was supported and encouraged by people in Elizabethton, which helped him to be successful in medical school and now in his career. He also said growing up in a small town taught him how to talk to people and how to be empathetic. Now in a field where he often sees people on the worst days of their lives, he can be genuinely supportive and empathetic – which can make all the difference.
He challenged students to work hard, to be kind, and to think about what they want to be known for. He also encouraged them to recognize and utilize the support and opportunities they have at school and in the community. “Most importantly, I got to where I got to because of this place, not in spite of this place,” he said. “These teachers and adults have your best interest at heart and want you do to do well. There are so many great things around here.”
Ibrahim was invited to the school by two students – Liza Raketska and Levi Shingleton – who are telling his story in a podcast. This will be submitted in the NPR Student Podcast Challenge among others from the Integrated US History and English III courses at the school.