UMDNJ Brainiac: Natalie Hyppolite
words by Doris Cortes-Delgado / photograph by David Howarth
atalie Hyppolite, a second-year medical student at SOM, is one of three outstanding students who are the first recipients of the Edward J. Ill Excellence in Medicine Scholarship. “I was so surprised and excited. I couldn’t believe it. It was an amazing feeling and experience,” she says.
As a child, she enjoyed watching medical shows, particularly Rescue 911. “The first time I said I wanted to become a doctor, I was in the 4th or 5th grade,” she remembers. “My parents realized how serious I was and did whatever they could to help me.”
Born in Brooklyn, NY, to Haitian parents, Hyppolite lived in Long Island for six years before her father got a job transfer to Cape Canaveral, FL. Her parents enrolled her in Catholic school in the fourth grade. “They were all about the value of education and were willing to make sacrifices to make sure my sister and I got the best possible,” she says.
In high school, she played varsity softball, basketball and volleyball. She attended St. John's University for one year, where she played Division 1 volleyball. Because of the high cost of living in New York, she transferred to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where the Florida Bright Future Scholarship paid 100 percent of her tuition.
Hyppolite learned about SOM from a cousin who graduated from there in 2005. First, she earned a master’s degree in biomedical science at GSBS in Stratford. Then, while applying to medical schools, she worked full-time in a trauma center in Nyack, NY, where she still works per diem. “I enjoy the pace and people there,” she states. “I do rotations with the physicians, helping with securing information for their charts and other indirect aspects of patient management.”
At the medical school, she serves as class officer and is one of two Honor Code representatives, helping to deal with issues that may arise related to professionalism, ethics and the student handbook. Hyppolite is also president of the Student National Medical Association. On January 22, she helped coordinate a conference for the NJ/NY Minority Association of Premedical Students, which attracted more than 120 participants. “The purpose of the organization is to increase diversity in medicine and also push for more community service to help the underserved,” she explains.
She is thankful for the many people who have helped her along the way, particularly Judith Lighfoot, DO, a volunteer clinical professor at SOM and infectious disease specialist in Voorhees, who rearranged her schedule to accompany Hyppolite to the scholarship awards dinner when her parents could not be there. “She is a wonderful person. If I become a quarter of the doctor she is, I know I will be just fine,” she comments.
Hyppolite especially loves community service and working with children. “I feel my calling is to serve underserved populations. It’s what I am passionate about,” she states. She has participated in several community projects, including a health fair in Salem County, and Project R.E.A.C.H. (revitalizing education and advancing Camden Health), a medical student initiative to benefit 7th and 8th graders at East Camden Middle School.
“I love working with kids. They are so eager to learn no matter how difficult their circumstances are,” she states.
This past summer, she did an internship at the South Jersey Family Medical Center in Hammonton, helping the Center to reach out to the Haitian migrant farm workers.
With her busy schedule, she finds time to play sports and do Bikram yoga. “Plus, I love to cook and eat. I am a major foodie,” she laughs.
Hyppolite dreams about creating a community health-based business model that can be applied to both rural and urban underserved areas, to boost health as well as their economy. She is especially interested in community sustainable living and gardening. “Maybe I’ll open up a restaurant, since I love the whole foodie thing. The kids from the community can come in and do mini-internships after school to keep them off the streets and give them a trade.”
Hyppolite concludes: “My medical school experience has been really amazing so far in ways I didn’t even expect. I came in thinking, ‘Yeah, I am going to be a doctor and I am going to get my education,’ but all these extra things are like Christmas presents. I couldn't be any happier.”