"Please don't call me Doogie": This talented teen is making history in the medical field
Alena Analeigh was just 13 years old when she was accepted to medical school this year. As amazing as that is, there's way more to this impressive future doc than just being smart.
For the most part, I'm a very normal teen. I love to play sports, hang out with my friends and post videos of myself singing on Instagram. But there are also things about me that aren't so typical. To start with, I am in college. And I'm also the youngest Black person to be accepted into medical school: This year, at 13, I earned a spot in the Early Assurance Program at the University of Alabama's Heersink School of Medicine for 2024.
I didn't always want to be a doctor, but I've always known I would end up in a STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering and math) field. I'm so passionate about this area, in fact, that a year and a half ago I started Brown STEM Girl, an organization to support women of color pursuing math- and science-related fields.
My passion for science started young: I was just 3 or 4 years old when my mom noticed how much I enjoyed sitting out in the middle of the desert to stare at the stars. So she began taking me to astronomy nights and on trips to visit different nature centers. She'd say, "I want you to see where you want to be."
At the time, I noticed there were not many people who looked like me working at NASA. Pretty soon after that, I developed a goal of becoming the youngest Black girl to be employed by NASA—which I achieved last summer when I became their youngest-ever intern.
Being ambitious and having a huge passion for education has served me well, but I've also dealt with my share of bullies. As a result, I ended up homeschooling for several years, which allowed me to move at my own pace, which, tbh, was pretty accelerated.
By the time I went back to regular school in fifth grade, I was already taking high school-level classes, and I officially graduated from high school when I was 12.
I've learned through experience that people will always judge anyone who is doing something different. Sure, I get a ton of comments congratulating me for my accomplishments, but I also see plenty of posts from people who say I'm missing out on a "true college experience" because of my age. (For the record, college is super cool. I've met some great people, and I *definitely* don't get any special treatment in my classes—I have to meet the exact same expectations as everyone else.)
Some people assume my mom is behind my decisions to graduate early and to apply to med school. Truth is, I do everything I do because I want to.
When I told my mom that I wanted to go to med school, she had concerns. But at the end of the day, she still supported me—just like she always has in everything I've done, whether it's big, small, crazy or silly.
And yes, people do call me Doogie Howser, a nod to the fictional teen doctor from the '90s TV show. That's probably *the* most annoying thing to come from all of the media attention I've received.
I'm not a "real-life Doogie Howser." I'm Alena. And, please, if you want to compare me to a young fictional doctor, at least say I'm a real-life Maggie Pierce, the character from Grey's Anatomy. She's a woman of color who graduated from med school early and became the youngest in her role on the show as the head of the cardio unit—and she looks like me.
Nothing against Doogie, but characters like Maggie are so important because they make careers in STEM feel more possible for young women of color. The world needs *more* representation of young women of color in STEM (and Shonda Rhimes, if you're reading this and ever need someone to consult on a young Maggie Pierce spin-off series, I'm here for you).
I got a lot of no's from people who told me "you're too young" or "you can't do this or that." It didn't bother me because I've always been that kid who doesn't stop until I achieve whatever it is that I'm setting out to achieve, but those barriers still need to come down in a big way.
Role models (real, like Oprah Winfrey and fictional, like Maggie) help with that. That's why it's so important to me to share my story—the successes and the happy parts and the no's and the other not-so-great parts—especially with other women and girls of color.
I'm lucky that I've had support from the people around me (especially my mom). It's allowed me to create my own path and pursue my passions to the fullest. Being a teenager in college is crazy and hectic, but I love where I am and what I'm doing—and where I hope to head.
After medical school, I plan to spend time working with organizations like Doctors Without Borders (a group that helps innocent people trapped in conflict zones around the world) and Mercy Ships (a floating surgical center that provides free care to children with facial tumors), but growing Brown STEM Girl will always be one of my top priorities and passions. I want to expand it into other countries and do whatever I can to help increase the visibility of women and girls in STEM—whether they're 12, 17 or 40.
Some people may look at my life and think that what I'm doing is odd or simply not necessary. But what they may not understand is that I am creating a platform so that girls who look like me will have a seat at the table and an open door to walk through. I get to get up every day and say, "Alena, what are you going to do for the next girl today?" And that makes *everything* (even the lame Doogie Howser jokes) totally worth it.
Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our October/November 2022 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.
Photo courtesy of Keith Major of Ebony Media.