There is a Ghanian concept, called Sankofa that centers around making positive progress as a community by helping others and lifting them up. For Dr. Jamal Jefferson, emergency medicine, Sankofa is not only a concept that guides his approach to life, it is something he puts into practice as a volunteer mentor for Alameda Health System’s (AHS) HealthPATH students.

“Throughout my journey to becoming a physician, I will never forget the importance of having a mentor along the way. Someone in my corner helping navigate as I took the next step,” said Dr. Jefferson. “I want to pay it forward and help students from the community who are interested in health care.”

Dr. Jefferson, who began serving as a HealthPATH volunteer in his first year of residency, has connected with over 100 students as a volunteer clinician through the Mentors in Medicine & Science (MIMS) internship program.

MIMS offers career exploration programs for local students of color in high school and college who are typically underrepresented in health care pipeline programs. MIMS provides them with exposure to a breadth of health care careers while providing meaningful mentorship and leadership development.

“Dr. Jefferson’s contributions to HealthPATH are immeasurable,” said Joilah James, manager of HealthPATH operations. “We are extremely grateful for his dedication to supporting young people on their learning journey and in pursuit of their individual goals.”

John Zelaski, an Oakland native and graduate of the MIMS program in 2021 is on his way to achieving his goal to become a physician thanks to Dr. Jefferson’s continued mentorship and support.

John Zelaski

“After expressing my interest in applying to medical school, Dr. Jefferson took the time to review my personal statement and metrics and he provided great feedback,” shared Zelaski. “He generously mapped out a whole series of steps for me to take for creating a strong, competitive application.”

Zelaski, who attended Xavier University, is currently finishing a pre-med postbaccalaureate program at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.

His dream is to attend the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical School closer to home. He shared that he’s interested in studying psychiatry due in part to the rise in mental health and substance abuse issues currently impacting Oakland. “After all is said and done, I aspire to be like Dr. Jefferson, and give back to the village that made me who I am,” said Zelaski.

For Dr. Jefferson, this shared dedication for serving our diverse community includes inspiring underrepresented minority youth to pursue careers in health care.

“Every time I take care of a Black patient in the emergency department (ED), there’s that moment when they recognize you’re one of their doctors,” he shared. “You can’t imagine how many people say to their kids, ‘Hey, look at him. He’s a Black doctor. He’s your doctor.’” Dr. Jefferson shared that the looks on their faces are something he can never forget.

Dr. Jefferson who graduated residency in May 2023 has accepted a part-time position serving patients at San Leandro and Alameda Hospitals.

“Two of my favorite things about working at AHS are the diverse communities we are privileged to serve and being part of a dedicated, mission-driven staff that reflects that community,” said Dr. Jefferson. “As a mentor, I want to ensure there are more people like me coming through the pipeline because they will be able to bring others along behind them.”

To learn more about HealthPATH programs and how you can volunteer to be a mentor visit HealthPATH