Voices of HMSOM: King Bringing Equity to Family Medicine
January 16, 2024
Ever since she was a little girl growing up in the Caribbean, Munifa King lived - and breathed - the importance of medicine. With severe childhood asthma, an occasional attack meant a trip to the doctor was really a full excursion for her and her family in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It was basically a whole-day event,” recalled King recently. “But after I went, I would feel better, every time. That was my earliest introduction to medicine - and it inspired me to become a physician.”
But those inclinations toward a life of healing were also prompted by the experience of others: even in her earliest years, she would always tell her mother that she would become a doctor and help her mother with her ailments.
King is a fourth-year medical student at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine and is well on her way to receiving her MPH degree from Thomas Jefferson University (a program of which is a partnership between the two institutions). She is poised to graduate in the spring with both an MD and an MPH and is aiming for a residency in Family Medicine. She intends not only to have a direct hand in healing - but also to improve medicine’s capacity to make everybody better through advocacy. She’s already won awards for her outreach and acumen, and she is poised to make a difference.
”I want to practice medicine, I want to care for my community,” she said recently, in an interview.
“Munifa King is a standout student, and we are so proud she is implementing so much of the mission and vision of our school,” said Jeffrey Boscamp, M.D., president and dean of the medical school.
King came to New York City with her mother for better opportunities when she was in the sixth grade. Her mother cooked and cleaned for a living, working in a Brooklyn school for some years before a major spinal injury left her unable to work. Neither of her parents finished high school, but the importance of an education was always paramount at home.
“My mother made a lot of sacrifices for my sister and I, and for our family,” recalled King. “She’s always been really supportive of my education, and using the resources she wasn’t fortunate to have growing up in the Caribbean herself.
“We didn’t have much,” she continued. “My mom didn’t go to school, or have a high-paying job. But we were always embued with values to work hard, and that education can make a difference in your life.”
She pursued her undergraduate degree in Health Science at Stony Brook University as an Educational Opportunity Program student and graduated with honors. From there, she discovered vital pipeline programs like NERA Medprep, which amounted to about three summers of “academic enrichment exposures” that got her involved in shadowing and clinical research, including the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and the Stony Brook University Emergency Room. Those experiences provided her experiences and context for taking the plunge into the full pursuit of a medical degree.
“It was so essential, to tie all those experiences together,” she said. “If I didn’t have that mentorship, and those opportunities to apply to pipeline programs, I wouldn’t be here today.”
IMPLEMENTING A MISSION
Applying to medical schools brought her into contact with many; Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine stood out for her, based on what it stands for.
“I wanted to be at a place that cared about the community and that cared about training doctors who care about the community and want to make a difference,” she said.
Upon starting, she thought she would be a pediatrician. But from the first panel of visiting doctors in the very first week at school, continuing throughout her rotations and her work in The Human Dimension program, Family Medicine quickly became her path. All rotations had their draw and their allure; but Family Medicine seems to tie it all together for what she wants to do professionally.
King has seized seemingly all opportunities she can find. She founded and became the first president of the Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) on campus. She also helped with programs which may help someone such as herself years earlier: she became the vice president of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) chapter at HMSOM; and she also helped to develop the Hackensack Meridian Physician Pipeline Program (HPPP) which brought under-represented undergraduate students from across New Jersey to learn about pursuing a career in medicine via the school. On a parallel track she was a medical-student mentor to the under-represented high school students who learned about the school via the MINDS (Medical Internship Navigating Diversity and Science) program. Her peers elected her as one of three members of the Student Advisory Group, and she also found time to volunteer on the Cultural Humility Subcommittee of the Medical Education Committee.
King was a student scholar for the National Medical Fellowships Health Equity Leaders Program (HELP) by which she helped train hundreds of peers about smoking cessation. It was this same “quit center” work, in which she was mentored by well-regarded physicians, including Chinwe Ogedegbe, MD, MPH, MBA, FACEP, the section chief of emergency medicine research at Hackensack University, and Antonia F. Oladipo, MD, MSCI, FACOG which garnered King a major award: the 2023 Excellence in Public Health Award from the United States Public Health Service amid Human Dimension Capstone Scholarship Day.
King still makes weekly visits to her mother, who is faring better with mobility after surgeries and procedures. She also remains close with her older sister, and two brothers.
A newer part of her family is her husband, Zavia King, whom she met before medical school and who is currently in his third year at HMSOM.
In what free time she can find, she is an avid (indoor) gardener and aficionado of podcasts and audiobooks.
Match Day, graduation, and residency are next on her schedule. While these huge steps can feel daunting, she also remembers how far she’s come already toward her dream. She feels she can make a difference, as healer, educator and mentor to those who come after.
“The biggest impact I can make is to mentor future physicians and make sure that they had the same exposures and opportunities I had.”