How a HSC TCOM student came to America with his parents' help to be an osteopathic physician

Monday, March 11, 2024

Johny Morkos with fellow HSC white coat studentsIt was a revolutionary time in Egypt in early 2011, the streets filled with millions of protesters while there were violent clashes between civilians and security forces. The parents of Johny Morkos weren’t looking to leave their home in Egypt, they were a hard-working middle-class family. If an opportunity came about, they would potentially look at it as a family and decide if it was the right move or not, but violence happening in their home country was the last straw.

They looked towards the United States. Little did they know that with some luck, hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, and the JAMP program their son would be on the verge of becoming an osteopathic physician several years later. Johny Morkos, now a fourth-year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, is about to match to a residency program and in May graduate medical school. None of it happened without the sacrifice, commitment, and love of his parents, and his efforts to repay them one day.

Here is how it happened.

Playing the Lottery

Passed by the United States Congress, The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa, which makes up to 55,000 immigrant visas available through random selection from different nations. The program allows those from countries with low immigration rates to enter for a chance to apply for a U.S. immigrant Visa.

The Morkos family was going to play the lottery for the first time. His family applied in 2010 and then continued on with their lives

 “We thought, what are the odds we are going to get an immigration visa,” said Morkos. “My parents gave it a try and applied. We put it on the back burner, and we weren’t even thinking about it, we just went about our lives normally.”

It wasn’t too long until they found out, they beat the odds and won the lottery, the Morkos family was coming to America. It was the summer of 2011 when his family got the news.

“We became very happy as my dad opened the results in the middle of the night,” said Morkos. “But as the initial excitement subsided, we soon realized that we would be leaving our family in Egypt, liquidating all we owned and leaving it all behind. It became a little bittersweet.”

After going through a rigorous screening process, Morkos and his family arrived in the U.S. in February 2012. Morkos was 14 years old and just finishing up middle school at the time.

Morkos would be leaving all of his relatives, and best friends that he grew up with behind, and even his oldest brother would stay in Egypt having been recently drafted by the Egyptian military. What seemed at first to be an exciting opportunity, came with some difficult goodbyes.

“I remember that day as if it were yesterday,” said Morkos. “I remember crying throughout the entire ride to the airport and saying one more final goodbye to my brother and the rest of the family at the terminal gate. During the flight, I was pondering how we were going to start a new life there, how I was going to make friends, speak the language or do anything. It was emotionally challenging.’

Morkos, the youngest of three brothers, his middle brother, mother, and father were on their way to America. And the difficulties were just starting.

Johny Morkos with friendsStruggling to fit in

Things were tough for the Morkos family once they arrived in the United States. Johny’s parents, in their mid-50s, had to accept minimum-wage jobs because of their limited English. Their professional careers they worked hard for in Egypt were gone.

Johny was beginning his freshman year in high school, his brother his senior year, with no friends, little knowledge of the culture and even less ability to communicate.

“It was rough, to say the least,” Morkos said. “Probably two or three weeks into the move we were discussing with our parents that maybe this isn’t for us, maybe we need to go back to Egypt because this is getting too hard.”

That soon changed. The Morkos family came across a volunteer at a Community Outreach Center that helped them with their transition and later became a very close family friend. “She was always there for us,” said Morkos. “and she pretty much treated us as family.” Things for the entire family started to change. Johny’s brother graduated high school and was off to college to pursue a career in Pharmacy. Johny overcame the initial struggles in high school and the life-altering decision by the family to come to the United States was looking like the right one.

“It was after finishing freshman year of high school and my brother’s graduation that my parents saw some light at the end of the tunnel,” Morkos said. “It was then when we realized that the decision to stay in the States might be worthwhile.”
Mentoring from JAMP makes the difference   

As the Morkos family began to thrive, it was near the end of high school that Johny began to develop a passion for medicine, but he wasn’t sure which direction to go. That changed with a few visits to the family doctor with his parents.

“The initial spark was going with my parents to see their doctors as I would usually translate for them,” said Morkos. “Seeing the physicians’ impact on my parent’s quality of life steered me into the medicine path.”

Morkos wanted to stay close to home and support his family in college, so he enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington. In his freshman year, he began taking pre-med courses and after his first year in college, that’s when he applied for the Joint Admission Medical Program, better known as JAMP. The program was established in 2001 by the Texas Legislature to minimize these challenges for highly qualified but economically disadvantaged Texas resident students by providing them with the financial support and mentoring needed to be successful.

“After I looked through the criteria and the benefits of the program, I knew that this is what I needed to become, the first physician in my family,” said Morkos. “I didn’t know anyone who pursued this medical pathway, so the mentorship offered by the program was very much appreciated. The summer internships were also immensely valuable as it gave me a glimpse of the rigor of medical school.”

It was during his first summer internship in 2018 that Morkos struck a friendship with Lorena Marin, TCOM’s Assistant Admissions Director and JAMP Coordinator. Marin saw in Morkos a desire and hunger to learn.

“I met Johny six years ago at the summer internship and I remember him well because when I spoke to the group, he was the one who hung on to every word and advice I shared,” Marin said. “I believe that is why he has done so well. He is teachable and appreciates everything he has been given. While at TCOM, Johny has given back what he has received. He was always willing to mentor high school and undergraduate students and share studying tips and advice with TCOM students.”

During the five weeks over the summer, Morkos took courses on anatomy and physiology, worked with primary care physicians in the clinic and was actively participating with doctors. As he progressed at UTA, he knew he wanted to go to medical school, but didn’t know how to pay for it.

He had been saving money throughout his entire college career, but his senior year gave him the opportunity to work multiple jobs. Morkos had nearly completed his degree and so he had the flexibility to work, and that’s what he did.

Morkos worked multiple jobs throughout the year, tutoring students, working in the JAMP office at UTA and doing anything else he could do to save up money.

“My parents didn’t have the money to pay for all of this, but they supported me with anything they could,” Morkos said.

Initially, Morkos was eager to “leave the nest” when it came to medical school. He was looking at schools outside of the DFW area and ready to explore new places.

Johny Morkos with fellow HSC studentsFinding his home

Morkos says that he didn’t rank TCOM as one of his top choices when it came to the match for those in the JAMP program. Not because he didn’t like the school, he just wanted to explore what was beyond the region. In hindsight, he is very thankful for the opportunities at TCOM and staying close to his family and friends.

 “I promised myself I would minimize my parent’s contributions as they have already gone through a lot,” he said. “There were a lot of prayers involved. Thankfully I managed to receive a couple of grants and scholarships, along with the money I saved during college which helped cover some of the costs.”

Morkos himself has sacrificed. He decided to live at home, helping his parents as much as he could, and to live as frugally as possible through medical school. He arrived at TCOM in the summer of 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been growing with the profession the entire time.

In his second year at TCOM, Morkos was a teaching assistant in the osteopathic manipulative medicine labs, showing his classmates different techniques about OMM.

“I really enjoyed learning about and practicing osteopathic medicine,” he said. While on his family medicine rotation, he was working at a JPS Health Network Clinic with a physician who was an MD but regularly takes TCOM students. A patient had been in a minor accident a few months prior, gone to the ER, and then returned to the clinic a couple of months later for a wellness check.

“She still had some residual shoulder pain from the accident when she came in, and the physician said, ‘Hey we have Johny here who is an osteopathic medical student and can perform some soft tissue techniques to help alleviate some of the pain,’” Morkos said. “Although he caught me off guard it was refreshing to see him trusting me with his patient. I performed some gentle soft tissue techniques on her shoulder and at the end of the treatment, the doctor asked her how it felt, and she said the pain was gone. It was my first encounter to perform OMT on a patient and that is where I saw the value of osteopathic medicine.”

Johny Morkos and friendsA Grateful Heart

As Morkos prepared for Match Day, he was exposed to a plethora of specialties while on rotations, giving him plenty of options to think about. But his decision was made a long time ago.

“As I went through rotations, I found myself liking everything,” he said. “That’s why I chose to apply for internal medicine. I liked the intellectual challenge and the breadth of diagnosing and managing diverse conditions. I also enjoyed the aspect of developing long-term relationships with patients, fostering trust and a deeper understanding of their values. Internal medicine is versatile and will offer me the most flexibility with future career options.”

While the journey to becoming an osteopathic physician was wrought with twists and turns, he is open about one fact, without the JAMP program he would not be in this position.

“The JAMP program has helped me in tremendous ways I could never have imagined,” Morkos said. “It was more than just the financial assistance; it was the mentorship and networking opportunities. I have several mentors that I still contact to this day and ask for their guidance when I need to. I cherish the friendships I’ve made with others in the program who shared similar backgrounds and now we get to be colleagues. The way it all happened, I look back on it and can see God’s hands working in every step of the way.”

The reality of moving away from his parents for residency and what he now calls home has hit Morkos. It’s only been just over a decade from when he left his childhood home of Egypt for America, and who could have foreseen where he is now, with all of the struggles his family faced?

“To sit here knowing that I will become a physician after working so hard for over a decade feels incredible,” Morkos said.  “First and foremost, I thank God for everything. As a Coptic Orthodox Christian, my faith has played an integral role in my journey thus far. I am also grateful to my parents for the sacrifices they’ve made for me, and I hope that someday I’d be able to repay them.

When Morkos opens his envelope and finds out about his future on Friday, Match 15, his parents will be by his side, like they have been all across the world.

From HSC Newsroom - Our People by Steven Bartolotta