Niccolo Dosto is a 2017 Johns Hopkins University graduate who has participated in various programs and events organized by and associated with Medicine for the Greater Good. We spoke with Niccolo about how he engaged with MGG, what his goals for the future are, and how his work with MGG impacted his career path going forward.
To start off, could you give a little info on what your involvement with Johns Hopkins is, and where you’re at?
Sure. I’m actually from Baltimore, I live in the suburbs. I’ve been here forever. I went to high school here, and I went to undergrad at JHU. I graduated in 2017 with my degrees in Biology and Spanish and did a master’s program last year in Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Now, I’m in my gap year and am applying to medical school.
So, how I got involved with MGG: right after I graduated college, during my gap year before my master’s, I wanted to do some community involvement stuff, some volunteering, but locally – because I’m from Baltimore, and I’ve always wanted to do something for my community. I met Panagis [Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos is one of the co-directors of MGG] at a community health fair during my clinical research, and we met up about a month later, and he described to me what MGG’s mission was – I was really into it. He asked me to be a part of this mentoring program between undergrads at Hopkins and high school students in Baltimore city; it was called the Hero Lab, and that was how I got into MGG. After that, he asked me to do other things, he got me into publications, helping out with other MGG programs, and here I am.
What kinds of programs did you participate in?
So, aside from Hero Lab, I worked closely with MERIT, which is a nonprofit organization that helps high school students get into college. I was introduced to MERIT from MGG, so then I got into contact with MERIT, and I helped out with a bunch of their high school programs. Other than that, I accompanied Panagis to a lot of events, so I remember one event where I spoke at a fundraiser about the mentoring program. There was this random art gallery that we went to in Hampden, and just before we went, Panagis was like, “oh, by the way, you have to speak in front of all these people for twenty minutes,” so I was like “what?!” I made a random speech in about twenty minutes, and I spoke to a bunch of people. This last year, I was busy because I was doing my master’s program, but the year before that was when I was doing the Hero Lab and mentoring program, so that was basically my involvement with MGG.
What did you find most valuable about your involvement?
I think the thing that I like the most about this organization is that it’s local; it focuses on, basically, my neighborhood. I feel very strongly about Baltimore because it’s where I grew up, it’s where I went to school. I get super defensive when people, like my college friends from out of state, would say things like “oh, Baltimore isn’t a safe place, it’s not a great city,” and make all these jokes, and I get super defensive because you know, Baltimore has a lot of problems like every big urban city, but it’s a very charming city – and it’s very strong and has a lot of resilience. A lot of people don’t see that side of Baltimore, and I really like that MGG is very local and it focuses on grassroots, community-based programs, and that’s what I want to do when, basically, I grow up – I want to do something local, something hands-on, you know? That’s what MGG feels like to me, and, even better, that it’s in my hometown.
I also like making connections with people. Through this organization, I’ve talked to community leaders, to religious leaders, pastors, community organizers, and I would have never gotten to meet these people or make these connections without having MGG here.
If you could think of one event or program you worked on, what would you say is your favorite?
Through our MERIT program (Hero Lab), we had each student at the end of the program make a project for the community that was sustainable. My favorite part was one of our high school students actually started an art class for elementary school kids that focused on mental health. So, they had these kids paint and draw things that represent mental health to them. I went to their gallery, and all of their parents were there, and they were showing off their paintings and explaining to all of us what they thought mental health was. I thought it was incredible because, you know, it’s hard enough for adults to talk about mental health, but these kids seemed to have an amazing grasp on it. It was crazy to me that a high school student would be able to create such a deep and meaningful program for elementary school students. I like working with children; I want to be a Pediatrician.
You want to be a Pediatrician – what does that process look like for you, and where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I’m just starting to apply for medical school now, so I’ll be there for four years. Maybe I’ll be in residency? I do want to something meaningful like this – community-based. Wherever I am, wherever life takes me, I want to start something like MGG. I want to do something like what Panagis has done here in Baltimore, wherever I go. That’s my inspiration.
Has working with MGG reinforced that goal for you, or was it something you knew beforehand?
I may have known it beforehand, but there’s nothing like putting what you know into practice, right? So, I might know how to connect to people, I might know how to do this and that, but if I don’t put it into practice and don’t do the things I know how to do, then they’re meaningless. MGG is like a tool to help me fulfill what I want to do in life.
In a broader sense, what do you think working with MGG has told you about the medical world as a whole? Do you think that professionals who don’t regularly focus on the community side of healthcare should participate more, or do you think that it’s its own field?
Yeah, I think its important for doctors to not just focus on research and drugs and all that, but to focus on the human side of medicine – and to not forget the fact that, sure, you’re treating diseases, but you’re also treating people. If you don’t get this kind of human interaction, then you can forget that your patients are actually humans, and not just cells on a plate. If that happens, then you’ve really forgotten what it means to be a physician. I think every doctor should be in an organization like MGG where they do some kind of grassroots work – or work with disadvantaged populations, just to remind them that they’re treating real patients.
Going back to your desire to start your own nonprofit or organization, would that be ideally in Baltimore, or like you said, just wherever you may end up?
I don’t know if I’ll be in Baltimore – so wherever life takes me. Again, in the future, I’d like to do something like this because it’s very meaningful, and it brings people down to earth. You actually have a positive impact on the people you want to help. Yeah, definitely, I want to start something like this.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.