Honors Program

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“But How Can Honors Help Me in __ Years?”

Incoming students to Merrimack College’s Honors Program can oftentimes be overwhelmed with the “What Honors Can Offer You” spiel, losing sight in the “right now” perks of the program. Yet, Merrimack Honors is more than the Honors Commons, or the suite-style dorm rooms; it spans further into interconnected webs of alumni, family, students, and faculty. Sure, Merrimack Honors can completely change your college experience, but where do Honors students end up in 5, 10, 15 years?

  • Elie Ibrahim Ata, MD
    Elie Ibrahim Ata, MD
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Incoming students to Merrimack College’s Honors Program can oftentimes be overwhelmed with the “What Honors Can Offer You” spiel, losing sight in the “right now” perks of the program. Yet, Merrimack Honors is more than the Honors Commons, or the suite-style dorm rooms; it spans further into interconnected webs of alumni, family, students, and faculty. Sure, Merrimack Honors can completely change your college experience, but where do Honors students end up in 5, 10, 15 years?

For 2012 alumnus, Elie Ibrahim Ata, Merrimack Honors helped him into medical school, through his residency, and onto the front lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As a Fourth-Year Resident Physician, specializing in Full Spectrum Family Medicine, Dr. Ata found himself right back in the Merrimack community following his education, working with Lawrence Family Medicine right across the river from campus.

Dr. Ata’s role in the pandemic speaks to the “Essential Worker” title we’ve grown so accustomed to hearing. However, with tie to Merrimack Honors, the title feels closer to home somehow. Specifically, Dr. Ata’s responsibilities are those of a full spectrum family medicine physician. He provides care to patients of all ages and in multiple care settings.

“I have patients who are hours old, to those over the age of 95. I see patients in the hospital and in clinic and I am able to provide prenatal care and deliver babies. Additionally, I have additional training in addiction and substance use, HIV care, health systems , and sports medicine to name a few!” Dr. Ata stated.

Expanding upon this, Dr. Ata said “just like many other health centers and clinics across the country, we had to make significant adjustments in our approach to patient care. Seemingly overnight, we transitioned from the traditional office-based care model to Telehealth. The patient was no longer in front of me, I didn’t have any objective vital signs, I could no longer examine a patient in the traditional sense, and I could not provide reassurance with body language. The only care that could be provided was through verbal recommendations.

This certainly wasn’t something that was covered in my medical school curriculum. The challenge of having to speak three or more languages with my patients, learning a completely new disease process and illness, and trying to stay up to date with evolving recommendations and guidelines for testing, strained our already taxed medical system. Although there was a silver lining, patients would often pause the conversation regarding their own care to ask how you were doing.”

While one can go on for hours about the exemplary work Dr. Ata is doing eight years after graduation, how did Honors help him get where he is? Well, the answer lies in our Honors-specific Senior Capstone.

As part of the inaugural Honors Class of Merrimack College, Dr. Ata was of the first students to take on the Honors Capstone project, a cultivation of four years of Merrimack knowledge aimed to catapult graduating seniors into the next chapter of their lives. For Dr. Ata, the project echoes particularly loud throughout 2020.

The Honors Class of 2012 focused on Merrimack’s new mission at the time, “To enlighten minds, engage hearts and empower lives.” Dr. Ata’s classmates were pushed to inquire and ask tough questions of Merrimack’s colleagues and professors. As he states, “differences in opinion were welcomed and encouraged, which inevitably resulted in heated classroom debates – our scruples were pushed to the test. With all of that said, the 2012 Honors Capstone analyzed the socioeconomic disparities of the Merrimack Valley; specifically North Andover, Andover, Methuen, and Lawrence.

“I could not have imagined the level of impact that one assignment would have on my career. The social determinants of health greatly influence patient care and healthcare today and many of the same socioeconomic disparities were highlighted in the Capstone assignment that I completed. In medicine, we now know that issues such as the healthcare system, access to care, healthcare literacy, economic stability, housing, education, food security and the purview of community and social supports, all play a role in the wellbeing and overall health of an individual. We analyzed many of these influential factors at Merrimack as part of the Capstone,” Dr. Ata explains.

While we in the Honors Program know how impactful our Senior Capstones are, Dr. Ata is the perfect reminder that we needed during this ever-changing era we are living in.

For the rising class of 2021, and those that follow, Dr. Ata leaves these bits of knowledge:

  1. Understand and accept the dynamic school year that lies ahead; couple this with critical analysis and questioning of situations and systems in place. This mindset will put you leaps and bounds ahead of other students.
  2. Use this time to explore subjects and fields you otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn about; even if it is via Zoom, at least you don’t have to get dressed.
  3. Try to take as step back as often as needed to examine your emotional, mental, physical wellbeing. Know when you need to check in with someone and learn about your available physical and mental health resources.

Merrimack Honors was founded among the class of 2012, alongside Elie Ibrahim Ata, and it is only growing stronger in numbers and in passion. Dr. Ata continues to stand as an icon of its original foundation, as much today as he was upon graduation.

August 5, 2020 published by Merrimack College Honors Program Northview newsletter

By Meghan Smith ’22
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