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A tale of resilience: Samsuhadi’s journey to medicine at UTHealth Houston

Karina Samsuhadi is surrounded by family at her McGovern Medical School White Coat Ceremony. (Courtesy photo)
Karina Samsuhadi is surrounded by family at her McGovern Medical School White Coat Ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

Second-year medical student Karina Samsuhadi’s path to medicine is woven with threads of fortitude and gratitude after she struggled with housing instability.

Her journey to medicine began in the heart of familial sacrifice. Born to parents who traversed oceans and faced the challenge of language barriers, Samsuhadi has embraced diligence and sacrifice since her earliest days.

“It’s a story of the American dream and the promise of opportunity, not for themselves, but for their children,” Samsuhadi said of her parents, Yudianto and Tsoni, natives of Indonesia and Taiwan, respectively.

Born outside of the Washington, D.C., area, Samsuhadi’s family moved to Spring Branch, Texas, where she experienced personal difficulties in her adolescence that led to her running away from home at the age of 17. It was during this time she came face to face with the struggles of being unhoused.

“I had the privilege to survive the health care disparities many Americans face when it comes to housing instability,” Samsuhadi said. Without access to the proper resources to keep herself healthy, she contracted a urinary tract infection that developed into bilateral pyelonephritis, a “fancy name for a double kidney infection,” she explained.

A trip to the hospital and the care she received would shape the rest of Samsuhadi’s personal and professional life.

“I don’t remember exactly how many nights I was there, but if I had to guess, it was about a week,” Samsuhadi said. “I felt like an adult at the time but I was only 17. I was in the pediatric unit, but since I had been a homeless youth at that point, I felt like I had aged well beyond my actual years. It was disconcerting to realize that I was still a child, having to be physically reminded with giraffe cartoons painted on the walls. I was in so much pain and I looked horrible. I remember looking in the mirror and not recognizing who I saw.”

When Samsuhadi was discharged, she decided to return home fully recovered with a new outlook on life after receiving care and assurance from doctors and nurses.

“I realized I still had my whole life in front of me,” Samsuhadi said. “I had so much more to offer. I refocused, and in the process, my parents got what every East Asian immigrant parent has always wanted: their child going to medical school and working toward becoming a doctor. After everything I put them through, I think they deserved it.”

Samsuhadi earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from The University of Texas at Austin in 2019. Her desire to help others brought her to McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston with a desire to serve others.

As she finished her bachelor’s degree, her parents’ health began to deteriorate, and Samsuhadi’s wages were needed to help with their care. As the firstborn, she assumed the role of family provider. From substitute teaching to working on the show “Fear the Walking Dead,” she did as much as she could to bring home enough for her family.

“I know it may be difficult to understand from the outside, but it was an honor to do that for them,” Samsuhadi said. “It wasn’t a discussion. It just happened because it’s very ingrained in our culture. I was happy to do it because it alleviated my parents’ financial stress. But, it did take a toll on me.”

Samsuhadi’s financial worries were eased when she was named the inaugural recipient of the Claudia I. Martinez Strength Scholarship through McGovern Medical School. She also received the JT and Reena Thomas Medical Student Scholarship. Samsuhadi said the scholarships furthered her educational journey and granted her the gift of health and well-being.

“The scholarships not only provided the financial security to keep both me and my family safe, but also turned my dream of becoming a physician into a reality,” Samsuhadi said. “I am profoundly grateful to everyone who made the awards possible, and I look forward to helping others.”

Samsuhadi’s current medical interests span the human experience. From the realm of surgical prowess to the delicate intricacies of gender-affirming care, her vision extends to the marginalized and underserved.

“I’m also interested in ear, nose, and throat; facial plastics; and other specialties,” she said. “I’ve found a lot of interest and passion for underserved communities, as it’s my way of going back in time to heal my past self.”

As Samsuhadi charts her course, she remains anchored by the lessons of resilience and compassion and the boundless potential of the human heart.

“I’ll never forget this endowment; it has made such an impression on my life,” she said. “When I’m an established physician, I hope to pay it forward by contributing to endowments that I align with.”

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