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Scholarship winner carries on the legacy of Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser

Four years ago, Jada McMahon didn’t know much about Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser. But ever since, McMahon has used Lougen Fraser’s story as inspiration to survive—and thrive— in medical school at Upstate Medical University.

Then, McMahon was a senior at SUNY Binghamton, and she had just been selected as the first recipient of the Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser Dean’s Student Distinction Award. The award is given to an incoming African American female medical student with exemplary academic standing who best epitomizes the spirit and determination of Dr. Loguen Fraser. She was the first African American woman to graduate from what is now Upstate Medical University's College of Medicine and the fourth African American female physician in the United States.

Once McMahon learned about Loguen Fraser’s history and life, she felt the weight of such an award, and worried about remaining in good standing in order to keep the scholarship, which includes full-tuition, housing at Upstate’s on-campus residence and a stipend.

But any time things got tough— as they often do— in medical school, she thought about what Lougen Fraser endured and she pressed on.

“Every time I passed her portrait (in the library) I was reminded that not only could it be much more difficult, but the reward is so great because people before me endured,” said McMahon, who is from Hempstead, Long Island. “Especially walking into the library to study for eight hours.”

Lougen Fraser was educated shortly after the end of slavery, graduating from medical school in 1876 and while she lived in America, she persevered under the constraints of Jim Crow. She moved to the Dominican Republic with her husband where she ran a free clinic. After he died, she lived in Washington, D.C., France and shortly, Syracuse. Toward the end of her career, she struggled professionally and financially but continued her practice.

McMahon says it is important to understand and acknowledge the obstacles, racism, and sexism Lougen Fraser undoubtedly faced.

“There’s so much power in it,” she said. “It makes me sad to know that’s what someone had to go through for me to get to where I am. It’s a lot of emotions. I just become more honored as the years go on, as I mature and learn more about myself and what I want to do.”

While at Upstate, McMahon more than lived up to the criteria of her scholarship. She was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society and the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. She served as president of the Student National Medical Association chapter here, received three alumni awards this year and three more graduating student awards on match day.

McMahon will do her residency in psychiatry at Yale New Haven Hospital. She was drawn to psychiatry early on during medical school when she found personal interactions with patients much more fulfilling than prescribing medicine or doing a procedure. Like Lougen Fraser, McMahon wants to work with underserved populations, especially black and brown children impacted by concentrated poverty and increased incarceration rates. She is also interested in politics and health policy.

“I think I can have the largest effect on community health through my interactions with people and by understanding the community psyche to affect change or just advise change,” she said.

McMahon was drawn to medicine due to the experiences of another prominent black woman in her life: her mother, Joanne, who died of breast cancer when McMahon was 12. McMahon said the pull to medicine wasn’t just about her mom’s illness, but her experience as a black woman.

“The more I study black womanhood the closer I get to her in a lot of ways,” McMahon said. “That’s also why psychiatry calls me because working with black youth and black women brings me closer to myself and closer to her and that community experience helps me understand my family’s experience, helps me understand my mom’s experience.”

McMahon said wanting to feel closer to her mom also drew her to psychiatry since it enables her to feel closer to the people she serves.

“I feel her presence when I am studying these things.,” McMahon said. “That is the real inspiration. Not just because she had breast cancer. It was bigger than that.


Caption: Jada McMahon stands in the hallway below a quote attributed to Sarah Loguen Fraser: “I will never see a human being in need of aid again and not be able to help.”  McMahon, the first recipient of the Sarah Loguen Fraser Scholarship, graduates May 7 with a medical degree.