Fulfilling a more obligation to mentor--How the bond between a recent UTMB School of Medicine graduate and a second-year medical student is helping shift a trend for minorities pursuing careers in health care

Jul 23, 2019, 19:34 PM by Jessica Wyble

One’s time in school is a period of discovering, exploring, learning and developing. Often, this process is focused on one’s self and personal field of choice; however, for Ben Amagwula, a 2019 UTMB School of Medicine graduate, the experience has been as much about his peer Xavier Rice’s journey as it has been about his own. 

image of ben amagwula and xavier rice at amagwula's graduation ceremony this summer Rice, a second-year medical student at UTMB, first met Amagwula at Prairie View A&M University while the two worked toward completing their undergraduate degrees. Rice remembers encountering Amagwula through PVAMU’s Undergraduate Medical Academy—a program that aims to funnel minority students into medical school by providing them necessary resources and support. Amagwula, who was an upperclassman at the time, was already a member of the academy and took then-freshman Rice under his wing almost immediately after meeting him. 

“We just came together naturally,” said Rice, who gives Amagwula a good bit of credit for his now being enrolled at UTMB. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t be here without him, but there’s a good chance I might not have been.” 

The pair’s bond is a strong one that has stood the test of time and distance. When Amagwula graduated from PVAMU and began his studies with UTMB’s School of Medicine, he made a point to regularly check in on his younger peer. This was especially true during stressful, crucial times such as when Rice was preparing to take the MCAT (the Medical College Admissions Test)—a standardized test used to assess applicants’ science knowledge, reasoning, and communication and writing skills. 

“I tried to keep up with what he was doing and encourage him every chance I had,” says Amagwula, who was among the more than 230 UTMB School of Medicine students who walked across the commencement stage at Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston on June 1. 

Fiercely aware of and grateful for the impact and influence Amagwula has had on his life, Rice has made an effort to follow his mentor’s lead by now paying it forward with a new round of med-school hopefuls at PVAMU. 

“I think it’s important that these types of relationships continue, especially for black and Hispanic men,” said Rice. “We’re the least represented demographic in the medical field, but mentorships and friendships like the one I have with Ben will surely help change that.” 

This isn’t the first time the bond between Rice and Amagwula has caught people’s attention. PVAMU shared a story (http://www.pvamu.edu/blog/pvamu-takes-the-lead-in-texas-in-graduating-black-men/) on the pair back when Rice graduated with his bachelor’s degree. The story discussed just how special and important connections like theirs are in shifting the trend of African American and Hispanic males starting college but not completing their degrees. 

Reflecting on his choice to become Rice’s unofficial mentor and lifelong friend all those years ago, Amagwula gives the bulk of the credit to PVAMU. 

“When I was working toward my undergraduate degree, the professors and leaders there made a point to help us meet and see people in the fields we were pursuing,” the Missouri City, Texas native says. “It’s almost like they saw it as their moral obligation to help the people who were following in their footsteps and that’s always stuck with me.” 

While Amagwula embarks on the next chapter of his educational journey as a radiology resident with Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in California, Rice is working as hard as ever here at UTMB. He’s a member of the Student Government Association and a student worker with the Department of Anesthesiology, on top of the challenging coursework that comes with being a second-year medical student. He’s also participating in a preceptorship with a seasoned anesthesiologist, gaining vital on-the-job information he hopes to one day use in his chosen specialty. 

Despite the geographic distance that will be between them in the coming years, the pair plan to stay in touch—just as they always have.