Two U of M Medical School students awarded Minnesota Medical Association’s Student Leadership Award

Medical School students Michael Kelly and Sinibaldo Romero Arocha were recognized for their outstanding leadership and commitment to the future of medicine.


Each year, the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) awards an exceptional medical student the Medical Student Leadership Award for their admirable commitment to the field of medicine. At its 2022 conference on Sep. 23, the MMA will introduce two University of Minnesota (UMN) Medical School students, Michael Kelly and Sinibaldo Romero Arocha, as co-recipients of the MMA Medical Student Leadership award.


Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly (bottom left) leading a Boundary Waters trip for young men

Michael Kelly knows better than most the value of community. Throughout his tumultuous childhood in the foster care system, Kelly found solace in academics and vowed to pursue a career that would help others. Kelly climbed out of a tough situation, and his greatest wish is to bring others up alongside him.

“Something like ten percent of foster youth end up going to college, and only three percent of that ten percent graduate,” Kelly explains. “I’m hoping that going into this career and providing a unique perspective and outlook on life might help patients going through similar issues.”

As a second-year medical student, Kelly has paired the rigor of academics with his all-encompassing passion for contributing to the greater good by founding MD Link, an organization made up of 30+ medical students providing support and education to homeless and other at-risk youth ages 12 to 24.

“We found that stable, consistent mentorship is really needed, so that’s one of our pillars,” Kelly recalls. “Unfortunately, a lot of mentorship programs have mentors come in and out of mentee’s lives. Our focus is a lifelong commitment.”

Although the organization is run by medical students, MD Link does not push medicine as a future career. Rather, the goal is to educate youth using mentors’ unique and diverse resources. The group has hosted workshops about STIs, scholarships, financial literacy and more.

As MD Link grew, the board realized additional funding would be necessary to achieve future goals. The medical students contributed hundreds of their own dollars and underwent the “gruesome” process of becoming a 501(c)(3) organization. Now, MD Link’s goal is to raise $10,000.

“We want to provide snacks, meals and transportation,” Kelly elaborates. “Our goal is to have 50 youth in the program by the end of this year, and we’ll need to invest in advertising to get there.”

Receiving the MMA’s Medical Student Leadership Award reaffirms Kelly’s core belief: together, we can change the world. 

“By accepting this award, I do so knowing that I could not have done this work without my wonderful medical student colleagues by my side. They’ve shown me there are great people within medicine,” he says. 

Kelly hopes that through supportive mentorship, young people facing challenges similar to his own will learn what he has: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start exactly where you are and change the ending.”

Visit the MD Link website for more information and to donate.


Sinibaldo Romero Arocha

Sinibaldo Romero Arocha (3rd from left) with members of the Latin American Medical Student Association

Native Venezuelan Sinibaldo Romero Arocha is pursuing an MD/PhD, through which he’s completing his MD at UMN and PhD in stem cell research at the National Institutes of Health and University of Oxford in England. With two years down and six to go, Romero Arocha is making the most of his time. 

Romero Arocha has dedicated countless hours to volunteering at the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic. There, he learned valuable lessons that opened his eyes to gaps in the Medical School education.

“I was exposed to a unique health disparity, which is language access,” he says. “A lot of our patients didn’t speak English, period. A lot of the patients didn’t know how to read in any language. It caught my attention that in our medical school, we don’t really have training for that kind of situation.”

Along with the Latino Medical School Association, Romero Arocha proposed a Medical Spanish pilot program, which would improve students’ fluency to provide better care for Spanish-speaking patients. After lengthy conversations with faculty, written proposals, and meetings with Dean Jakub Tolar, the team’s vision was approved.

“I’m grateful to be part of a school that’s so open-minded and receptive to feedback,” Romero Arocha emphasizes. “I don’t know if every medical student has that much access to their faculty.”

With the assistance of Drs. Michael Kim, MD and Katherine Murray, MD, MPH, the Medical Spanish program will launch in Spring 2023. Although Romero Arocha will be in England working on his PhD, he intends to stay involved.

“We invested so much in this, we want to see it through. And the fact that we are receiving so much support from faculty is extra motivation to deliver a really good final product,” he states.

Receiving the MMA’s Medical Student Leadership Award cements that Romero Arocha has spent his time well during medical school.

“As a med student, you do a lot of things,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if what you’re doing is the right thing. When you’re in the clinic at 10 pm and you have a test the next day, you’re like, ‘Man, is this the best thing to be doing?’ But social activism and volunteerism are things I’m passionate about. That’s the kind of student I want to be. This award supports that there is space for that to happen, and it's rewarded and acknowledged.”