MDJunior: A New Beginning

One day left. One day. After almost 7 years of existence, we have just one day until we completely redefine what it means to be “MDJunior.” But our journey didn’t start here.

At its beginnings, MDJunior was simply an idea for a club. I had an inspiration, and I wanted to follow through on it. If you’re interested in hearing more about the founding of MDJunior, I gave a TEDx talk on this. But that’s not the story I’m here to tell today.

As founder of MDJunior at the age of 15, I fundamentally grew up alongside my organization. In high school I was a simple kid who loved one thing: policy debate. I liked to quote statistics and talk fast. When I made the decision to start MDJunior, I was suddenly thrown into a different world — giving speeches in front of rotary organizations, at conferences, and appearing in local news. My summer project became writing articles of incorporation and working with a lawyer. I was handling a social media page that somehow took off, reaching several thousand likes within a year or two.

To say I didn’t know what I was doing would be an understatement. I was lucky enough to have mom who is a medical professional and a dad in business. My parents were the pillars I stood on when I needed help, to draft a letter to a medical professional 50 years older than me, or to prepare an elevator speech even though I didn’t have the slightest idea what that meant. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

During the latter half of my high school career, our organization saw a period of rapid growth. Our model of “inspiring selfless service through mentorship” saw widespread recognition. Suddenly, we grew from a club at one school to over 30 chapters spread across seven states. We were recognized by the White House and the national Jefferson Awards for Public Service. I was recognized by Huffington Post, Business Insider, Harris Wofford. Dr. Ben Carson even wrote my recommendation letter to college.

We saw an enormous amount of growth, but unfortunately did not have the business experience or structure to keep up.

Back then we had two possible executive positions — President (me) and “Chapters-VPs” (the heads of every individual chapter). If you want to visualize this, you can imagine the head of an octopus with about 30 different tentacles. As you can imagine (and what we realized over time) is that these do not, and cannot, exist.

In 2013, I graduated high school, moved almost 700 miles north, and started my journey at Johns Hopkins. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I walked a very fine line between being any other college student and the CEO of a nonprofit that encompassed thousands of others.

It took time to figure out the balancing act of college life, social life, and running a nonprofit. Getting sucked into the college bubble can really hinder your communication to the outside world. College kids usually struggle with maintaining a regular connection with parents. I had to stay connected with over 30 different high schools.

I didn’t really realize until I stepped into my MDJunior shoes, visiting our high schools in Georgia, that our decentralized approach had turned to disorganization. Some chapters were wildly successful with club members hitting over 100 students, but most had fallen through the cracks. High school leadership teams graduated and moved on to college, and no one would take their place. Even if chapters existed, they lacked the back-end coordination necessary to organize more than one or two events per semester.

Our silver bullet through the years was our global mission. We consistently brought together a very passionate group of youth every year for our Global Medical Mentor Mission to Honduras. Although not huge in terms of our team — averaging around 20 youth and 10 medical professionals — we generated enormous impact. Over the course of 5 years we provided patient care to over 4,500 people in rural Honduras, raising over $300,000 in funds and medical supplies.

In September 2015, we decided it was time to convene everyone to see where we stood as an organization. It was almost like a State of the Union, but on the role of youth in health. We created our own conference, the Global Youth Health Summit, and invited youth to join as “GYHS Fellows” and leaders to speak in the fields of health, policy, and business.

This time, we changed the fundamental framing of the organization. The conference recognized youth as the leaders of today, rather than those of tomorrow. It was no longer about high school dropouts and youth as the problem — instead we saw youth as the solution to problems in our communities. We came up with the hashtag #YouthinHealth to describe the mission of the conference. The conference went beautifully, and it was amazing to see the way our students were inspired. Many of them left with a new vigor for MDJunior. We had started a movement. Little did we know this would fundamentally alter our path as an organization.

In the winter break of 2015 I had the opportunity to travel a lot. And by a lot, I mean a LOT. 117 hours of flying time to be exact. During my flights I took up writing. Not any sort of formalized writing — I would just take out a notebook and write. I wrote on topics from life, to relationships, to politics, to entrepreneurship.

I still remember my 18 hour flight to Hong Kong — I wrote pages and pages about MDJunior. What was working? What wasn’t? Why wasn’t it working? Why had I started it in the first place? I thought about our present and our future. Where do we want to be in five years?

After hours of writing, I didn’t come up with any concrete solutions, but I came out with something more valuable: the right questions. These questions, combined with the seeds of an idea, are what I came back with in the spring, gung-ho about our reorganization.

I went forward with these questions and ideas to work with a focus group we created to have productive discussions. We called it the “Academics Team,” and had weekly discussions over the course of three months. On the side, I started bouncing ideas off my close friends and peers. I’d ask my friends (pretty random) questions like “What is your passion?”, “What makes you passionate?”, and “Why do you think we do the things we do?”

By the end of the semester we winded down our focus group, but we came out with pretty substantial results. We had ideas. We had solutions. We had innovative new models. At the beginning of June, we started to package it all together. With our core group of driven youth and mentors, we started forming a National Team. We identified real executive positions: CEO, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Academics Officer, Chief Operations Officer. We launched the rebrand of our organization: changing our motto, our mission statement, and our colors. We reached out to a web development company and designed a new logo. We created staff positions and a work incentive structure — what we call the “Credit-Hour” system. We began to put together our innovative models and solutions and packaging them in “101 Toolkits” to provide to potential future clubs.

And now, today, we are ready for our real business launch. We are going to be releasing the result of not just the last 7 months of work but 7 years of history as an organization. In one day we officially release MDJunior 2.0. And I can say with the utmost confidence that I have never had more pride in our organization and what we do.

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