Joey Sharp’s adventures during his undergraduate education at UGA are about enough to fill a book already, and he has his sights set firmly on making a difference in the global health care system as a physician.
Lakeside High School
B.S. in biology, B.S. in psychology
University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
Freshman year at the University of Georgia involved discovering my place in a diverse student body on a campus with more activities to explore than an entire lifetime would allow. I quickly learned that “work hard, play hard” takes on a new meaning at the University of Georgia as I was surrounded by motivated and intelligent students who also knew how to make the most out of life.
Possibly my most memorable experiences at UGA have stemmed from the university’s support for travel and study. I jumped at these opportunities after freshman year and traveled to Australia and Fiji on a UGA study abroad program where I hung out with kangaroos, swam with manta rays and wrote essays in the back of a bus traveling on potholed dirt roads headed for the outback.
The summer after my sophomore year I received funding from the Honors International Scholarship Program and spent 12 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, volunteering in a township clinic and conducting research on antiretroviral HIV treatment adherence. The work culminated in an article published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and, more importantly, the implementation of a more effective and efficient treatment program in the community. The experience confirmed my goal of pursuing an MD/MPH and a career in global health.
The following summer I stayed (relatively) close to home and drove almost across the country to the mountains of Wyoming to volunteer in a rural primary care clinic. Here I learned about the complexities of community health, the importance of preventive medicine and the intricacies of running a private practice.
Back in Athens, I have engaged both the university and local communities. After becoming a brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, I joined Freshman Greek Leaders and served on the executive board the following year. I continue to mentor a local elementary school student with special needs through the Clarke County Mentor Program and volunteered in multiple departments at Athens Regional Medical Center. I worked with associate professor Maria Navarro as a teaching assistant and helped with the analysis of educational programs conducted internationally. After taking organic chemistry, I began working in associate professor Richard Morrison’s lab and engaged in both educational and laboratory organic chemistry research, and I am currently a co-teaching assistant in two undergraduate organic chemistry labs. I am a member of the Order of Omega, Phi Kappa Phi and Alpha Epsilon Delta premedical society. I was awarded the Dr. and Mrs. Larry A. Cohen premedical scholarship by AED and I have been a Presidential Scholar each semester at UGA.
UGA chemistry department
Family Ties to UGA:
Over the last four years, I have done my best to live up to the bar that the Sharp family’s original Amazing Student set when she graduated from UGA two years ago. Ellie Sharp (http://www.uga.edu/amazing/profile/sharp-ellie/) is not only my sister but also my best friend. She has supported me in more ways than I will ever fully appreciate. She introduced me to the University of Georgia and thus the best college experience in the country.
I chose to attend UGA because…
While the Hope Scholarship and Honors Program initially attracted me to Athens, it was my introduction to an individual professor, Karl Espelie, that confirmed my decision to choose UGA. This has proven to be the best decision of my life as I have subsequently discovered countless more reasons why UGA was meant to be home.
My favorite things to do on campus are…
… running at the State Botanical Garden and studying in an empty Miller Learning Center. While it rarely happens, the MLC does occasionally empty—usually on Thursday and Friday nights. While my first thought when I am in the building during these occasions is usually something along the lines of “medical school better be worth it,” I quickly realize how happy I actually am. Something about studying alone in that huge building is incredibly motivating and enjoyable; even still, sometimes I need a break. Nothing clears a clogged mind like winding through the woods on single-track trail at the botanical garden.
When I have free time, I like…
…to head to the mountains. Whenever I have a free day, I drive to the Southern Appalachians to hike, fish, backpack and relax outside. I have been known to impulsively jump in my car with a backpack and a fly rod to head to the Smoky Mountains on a Friday afternoon, only to return on Sunday morning muddy and tired but rejuvenated.
The craziest thing I’ve done is…
Twice I boarded planes headed for far sides of the globe and once I drove northwest across the U.S., solo, and into the unknown. These decisions to leave my comfort zone have led to opportunities to swim with humpback whales in the open ocean, jump into a cage surrounded by great white sharks, scuba dive with manta rays, spend the night in a trauma center in a South African township, backpack alone into the frozen Wyoming backcountry (and jump into a frozen lake at 11,000 feet), surf in four different oceans and truly open my eyes to what the world has to offer.
I have done some wild things—but the craziest thing I have ever done is not boarding a plane or diving off the side of the boat but simply dreaming of these experiences because it is with a dream that adventure truly begins.
My favorite place to study is…
… Jittery Joe’s coffee shop at Five Points. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere at Jittery Joe’s and the escape from campus that it provides. For better or worse, I have even adopted the nickname “Jittery Joe” by those who know how much time I spend in the local joint.
My favorite professor is…
I have been fortunate to learn from and work with the absolute best professors at the University of Georgia, but one professor stands out. I first met Karl Espelie as a high school student and was immediately struck by his intelligence, personality and, above all, compassion. I have never met another person as genuinely concerned for the well-being of those around him. I have no doubt that Dr. Espelie has positively impacted more students’ lives than any other professor on this campus. From the three-hour advising sessions to the 16-hour car rides to attend white coat ceremonies, Dr. Espelie makes every student feel as if he or she is the most important student who ever walked into his office. Like so many UGA graduates across the world, I am forever indebted to Dr. Espelie for his life-changing guidance and support.
In addition, Richard Morrison transformed “Organic Chemistry” from a menacing weed-out class into an enjoyable experience and has continued to support me over the past two years by inviting me to join his lab group. Maria Navarro taught me to adopt a global perspective, seek out problems and strive passionately for solutions. I am incredibly grateful for the guidance and motivation that these professors (and countless others) have provided.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…
Dr. Paul Farmer has worked tirelessly to eliminate social determinants of health care outcomes and to increase access to quality health care throughout the world. His actions have provided direction to my own career goals and his philosophy has provided motivation to achieve those goals.
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”—Dr. Paul Farmer
If I knew I could not fail, I would…
… end the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. While I’m at it, I would establish a comprehensive health care system in all developing countries. This answer may sound naive and unrealistic in an interview, but if I knew I could not fail, why not achieve the impossible? Fortunately, the only thing that makes this goal impossible is attempting it alone. It is within my generation’s grasp to close the gap in health care between developed and developing countries that is made so apparent by a crisis like the current Ebola outbreak.
Speaking in South Africa during apartheid, Robert Kennedy once said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” I challenge each of my peers to send forth a ripple.
If money was not a consideration, I would love to…
I have always dreamed of fishing for sea-run brown trout in Tierra del Fuego’s Rio Grande then climbing Mount Fitz Roy on the Chile-Argentina border. If money and time were not a consideration, I would drive south from Montana along the Rocky Mountains into Mexico and the southern Sierras, then along the Andes to Patagonia. Along the way I would fish and hike in some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. After fishing the Rio Grande for epic brown trout and summiting the mountain that inspired the Patagonia label I would jump on a plane to Tibet … but that is another dream for another time.
After graduation, I plan to…
… avoid opening a textbook for at least a month. Then attend medical school, where I will not close one for at least four years. I hope to earn an MD/MPH and work toward building a health system in which everyone, from the son of a corporate lawyer in Atlanta to the daughter of an HIV victim in Gugulethu, South Africa, has equal access to high-quality health care.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
While in South Africa, I volunteered at a small hospital in an impoverished township. One day a man came into the small emergency room (that also served as the lab and waiting room) with a deep laceration along the line of his eyebrow. He was attacked for the 45 cents in his back pocket on his way home from work. The physician explained the procedure to me as he laid out a suture kit. After injecting a small amount of local anesthetic, the doctor began the sutures. The proud patient winced and cried out despite his best attempt to hide the pain. As the physician continued, the patient’s cries only grew louder. I took the patient’s hand in mine and squeezed. While his pain likely did not decrease, the patient no longer cried with each stitch. On his way out of the room the patient, who had not yet looked me in the eyes, hesitated. He offered his hand: “Enkosi umhlobo”—thank you my friend.