Aiming high: Recent Grand Forks high school grad selected to attend national conference for aspiring medical leaders
GRAND FORKS—Adam Durrani, 18, didn't know a word of English when he arrived in this country, at age 6, with his parents from Pakistan.
He learned the language of his new homeland "mainly by watching movies and YouTube videos," he said, "and as an ELL (English Language Learner) student."
Durrani has come a long way since then.
The recent Red River High School graduate will attend, as a delegate representing North Dakota, the Congress of Future Medical Leaders this week in Boston.
"I'm the only one in North Dakota who was selected to attend, that I know of," Durrani said.
At events like these, "North Dakota is not represented by a lot of people anyway, because of the small population," he said.
Durrani was nominated by Dr. Mario Capecchi, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine and the science director of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists, he said.
He's not exactly sure why he was nominated; he didn't apply for the opportunity, he said.
"It may be because of my grades and my out-of-school activities."
To be eligible, a student must have a grade point average of 3.5 and "must show a raging love of medicine," said Durrani.
"Working in the medical field has always been something that I've wanted to do."
In Boston, he and other attendees will hear presentations by Nobel laureates and deans of prestigious medical schools, and learn about cutting-edge medical research.
They'll also witness a live surgery, which Durrani has never seen, he said.
Durrani, whose GPA is 4.0, was a member of the Red River High School swim and tennis teams.
As a student at South Middle School, he earned a black belt in Tai Kwon Do and spent a month one summer in Europe as part of a People to People Student Ambassador Program delegation.
"We visited seven countries in one month and experienced a lot of different cultures," he said.
On that trip, "there was one kid from Fargo and me—we were the only ones from North Dakota," he remembered.
Coming to America
At age six, Durrani and his family immigrated to Washington D.C., where his father started training in his medical specialty—and where Adam started kindergarten.
"The first two years were really tough," he remembered. "I didn't know any English. I had to not only learn a new language, but how to pronounce the words correctly."
After three years, the family moved to New Jersey, where his father practiced for two years.
Durrani was 11 when he moved with his family to Grand Forks the summer before he entered sixth grade at South Middle School, where he enrolled in the ELL program.
"I felt welcome, for sure," he said. But "there was a lot of diversity in New Jersey and Washington D.C. I didn't see a lot of diversity here.
"It was not like people treated me differently. It was hard to adjust to such an unfamiliar place."
He speaks several regional languages of his homeland, including Urdu, Pakistan's official language, he said.
"It was not until seventh grade that I lost my accent."
Durrani, the oldest of three children in his family, said a major influence in his life has been his father, Dr. Qasim Durrani, a neurocritical care specialist.
"Many members of my extended family are physicians," he said. "I'm probably the last one in my family to be born in Pakistan."
"I look up to him a lot," he said. "He has given up a lot for us. He had job offers in Pakistan but he decided it would be best for his family to come here.
"It was tough for him too. It was not that he was great at English."
This fall, Durrani plans to attend Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where he'll major "in biology and maybe minor in psychology—something to get me ready for med school," he said.
His goal to become a heart surgeon.
"I like working with the heart," he said. "I don't know what it is; it really intrigues me. It's the main powerhouse in the body."
Looking forward to the Congress of Future Medical Leaders, Durrani is excited by the prospect of spending time "with kids who have the same goal as I have," he said.
The chance to gain insights into the medical field and make connections with others represents "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Durrani hopes his story will "motivate more bright students" in this area, he said.
"I want everyone to know that if a student who did not know a word of English when he moved to this country can have the honor of being part of something this special, then anyone who works hard can too."