In the language of Afaan Oromo, Milki Gemeda’s first name means “good luck”—a fitting name for a child born into an Ethiopian family that had just received the opportunity of a lifetime.

“My family won a diversity visa lottery. You enter your name, and if you get picked, you get to bring your family to the U.S. and go through the process of becoming citizens,” Gemeda said. “It’s the classic immigrant story of finding a better life and more opportunities for your kids.”

Gemeda moved to the U.S. as a five-year-old, landing in the Twin Cities where she’s led the way as the eldest of five children. “There are responsibilities with that, navigating America as a first-generation college student,” she said.

But, she hasn’t let the weight of that responsibility keep her from the opportunities that her parents brought her to this country to find. One of many included the chance to enroll at the University of Minnesota into the BA/MD Scholars Program—an opportunity to complete both a bachelor’s degree at the U of M and a medical degree at the U of M Medical School in seven years with mentorship and scholarship support from the Blythe Brenden Scholarship for BA/MD Joint Admissions Scholars. The pipeline program admits only 10 freshmen every year who declare an interest in meeting the healthcare needs of Minnesota’s diverse patient population.

“In retrospect, that was probably the best decision I made. The program has definitely enhanced my ability to talk about medicine and our responsibilities to our patients as physicians,” Gemeda said. “Completing medical school in Minnesota is going to be such an enriching experience because we get to work with diverse population groups.” 

Her time both in Ethiopia as well as in the Twin Cities helped shape her passion to pursue medicine, particularly in global health. As a child, she remembers living in Addis Ababa and seeing a lot of homelessness.

“One of the first things I quickly realized when moving to America was that poverty and homelessness are widespread issues here,” Gemeda said. “It’s a parallel to my experience in Ethiopia in some ways, given that some people have a lot of opportunities and some people don’t, regardless of how developed a country is. Health is one of the most obvious ways that those disparities are seen. It would be fulfilling for me as a physician to see at what capacity I could address health care access issues—locally and globally.”

Now, as a first-year medical student, Gemeda looks most forward to her first round of clinical experiences. Over the next four years, she hopes they shape her into a physician who has discovered exactly how to merge her passions of service and humanitarianism into health care.

Gemeda said, “I want my time at the Medical School to help me find my passion to better understand what my role as a physician will be in addressing medical and social issues.”

For information on how you can support Medical School student scholarships, contact Carrie Albers of the University of Minnesota Foundation at