An honor for a future doctor without borders

Richard Vidal

Photo by Daniel R. Burke

While most Florida State University sophomores were worrying about the Seminoles’ chances against Miami or getting a good tan, Richard Vidal was hard at work, making the most of his education, and making his education the most it could be for others less fortunate.

Vidal is now a first-year student in the Medical School. He is still hard at work and has been rewarded with the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

The award will pay for two years of graduate school for Vidal, and he plans to make the most of this opportunity by pursuing both an M.D. and an MBA.

Vidal was one of only 30 applicants to receive the generous fellowship. Hungarian immigrants and well-known philanthropists Paul and Daisy Soros created the fellowship in 1997, with a charitable trust of $50 million. The program was established to cultivate promising young minds like Vidal, whose parents escaped to the United States from Cuba after the rise of dictator Fidel Castro.

While reflecting on the moment he first heard that he won the prestigious fellowship, Vidal remarked, “It’s a great program and a wonderful opportunity for new Americans. I have really been involved in international health the last few years and this will help me continue.”

One reason that Vidal was such a good candidate for the award was his demonstrated dedication to health around the world. During his second year at FSU, he founded a non-profit organization, International Medical Outreach (IMO), which trains pre-med students to deliver healthcare services in developing countries. “It’s how I decided that I really want to practice medicine,” said Vidal.

IMO began by setting up a clinic in Jamaica with just a few students. Now, it has blossomed and visits four countries a year, providing care and much needed medical supplies to underprivileged communities.

As a medical student in Philadelphia, Vidal has taken a less hands-on advisory role with IMO, but that hasn’t stopped him from helping those in need. He now volunteers as a coordinator for the United Community Clinic (UCC), housed in the First African Presbyterian Church at 41st Street and Girard Avenue. The clinic provides residents of University City with free shots, physicals, counseling services, and even houses a pharmacy, among other valuable services.

For Vidal, the practice of medicine is only half of the problem facing healthcare workers around the world. “I want to work eventually at the intersection of economic development and healthcare in developing countries,” he said.

“ There is a huge problem. We are pumping in resources but work just to stay afloat. We need to be a more long-term in our efforts to stop disease. I would like to create a non-profit that can work at an issue from many perspectives.” He is hoping that his studies at Wharton will offer the insight necessary to understand the economic as well as the medical circumstances relating to public health.

Vidal is undaunted by the demanding schedule, though. Just home late from the clinic, he quipped, “Med school is definitely not as bad as I thought it would be, and it is a really good program. It is a new curriculum and they are willing to change and mold it to the students.”

Originally published on May 1, 2003