A passion for preventative medicine leads TCOM student to help incoming medical students
It was the summer of 2018 and Kush Rama had just finished his freshman year at Texas A&M University. He and his family were on their way to visit his grandfather in Gujarat, India. As they were traveling through the different villages, the pervasive poverty Rama witnessed was shocking.
“For some of the populations living in poverty, their house was just a plastic tarp,” Rama said. “I saw a lot of suffering among the people, and what they were suffering from was preventable illnesses.”
That was the spark for the now second-year student at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Four years after his trip, Rama created a course called Thriving in Medical School. Rama and his colleagues from the Class of 2025 teamed up to teach the incoming Class of 2026 how to maintain good healthy habits while in medical school, so they don’t fall victim to preventable diseases themselves.
Rama, a first-generation American, took his experience in India and turned it into action. He started volunteering at clinics and saw the effect of chronic diseases on the population. Preventative medicine became his drive, and Rama knew the first person he needed to work on: himself.
“One of my main goals was to help others follow preventative lifestyles,” Rama said. “It’s a big issue in health care, and I knew before I took meaningful steps to achieve my goal, I had to figure something out about myself, and I had to ask the question “Why am I not following these preventable lifestyle habits?”
What are those healthy habits? Sleep, nutrition and exercise. After finding success on his own, he branched out to his family. Working parents can have a difficult time balancing those health habits, but Rama was able to show them it can be done in as little as 15 minutes a day. Those health habits were paying off, too.
“The biggest thing I saw was my mood,” he said. “I felt more energized throughout the day and just had a better outlook on everything. Whenever something tough came up, I wasn’t pushed back. I knew I could handle it.”
Rama had found the right mix of preventable habits for himself and his family, but could something like this work for medical students?
Medicine and Music
Matthew Branch’s mother was a music lover, who filled their home with dulcet tones while he was growing up. So, it was only natural that he started piano lessons at the age of five and has carried that with him ever since. The third-year TCOM student boasts a very eclectic taste in music but has also taken his love to the stage.
“I played in various bands throughout high school and college,” Branch said. “At the end of college, I also began producing my own beats and arrangements. Music production is a large part of what I do when it comes to music creation.”
He started rapping in middle school, but it was after graduating from Florida State University in 2017 that he took it to the next level. After moving to Austin to prepare for medical school, Branch was performing on his own, producing music and even his own first full-length album scheduled to be completed this year.
Branch performed at a TCOM event in the fall of 2021 that Rama was also part of. It was there that Rama approached Branch about being part of his program.
“He reached out to me weeks later asking me to contribute,” Branch said. “From what I understood about the Thriving in Medicine program, the subject matter is what I have based my whole medical school experience on up to this point. I strive to maintain a balanced life where each component feeds into the others. My successes in medical school feed into my music and vice-versa.”
Rama wanted to learn more from Branch about how he was able to balance his hobbies while still thriving in medical school. Rama saw in Branch that medical school does not mean the end of hobbies, the surrendering of things you are passionate about. He booked Branch as one of his first presenters to the Class of 2026.
“Medical school has taught me how to be disciplined, level-headed and analytical — all skills that have contributed immensely to my growth as an artist,” Branch said.
So, which of the three does Branch prefer the most, sleep, exercise or nutrition?
“In my personal life, I strive to maintain all three of these pillars,” he said. “I think all three of these contribute immensely to mental and physical well-being and in letting one slide, everything else in life is liable to suffer as a result. I try to exercise several times a week and to eat as clean as I can. I shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep a night.”
Rama’s program was spreading among his classmates. They were taking note of his application of preventive habits and lifestyle changes and wanted to learn more. Rama himself started studying more about physicians themselves who don’t practice healthy preventative habits and how they are more likely to not counsel their patients on these habits in their own practice.
“It was really concerning to see how many medical students struggle to reach this level because they will be responsible for counseling their patients on these habits in the future,” Rama said. “I want medical school students to follow preventative lifestyles and break the common stereotypes related to this topic.”
That passion for Rama came when he saw the results for himself.
“When I was following all three, I felt substantially more motivated and refreshed to study because it forced me,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help medical students prevent their health habits from declining, and the best time to do that was before their orientation.”
Mentoring the Class of 2026
There were two virtual sessions with the Class of 2026 — June 25 and July 2 — to talk about preventative medicine, lifestyles, health habits and have some fun.
TCOM students from across the board were there to help Rama. Ellie Rice Grace Rustom, Jenny Thai, Kamran Darvesh, Kelly Kim, Pooja Patel, Sandy Jun, Shayrin Oad and Ysabelle Martinez all contributed to making the events a huge success.
There were roughly 85 students from the Class of 2026 who participated in the sessions. There were a variety of topics discussed, but the main area of concern was how to balance their life between studying, staying healthy and still having time for a little fun.
“We spoke about ways to optimize their study schedules by focusing on the use of active learning techniques and reducing the barriers they faced with being healthy,” Rama said.
They also heard from Branch, who spoke to the incoming class about his ability to continue to pursue his passions while staying healthy and being successful in medical school. Branch then put on a demonstration of his rapping skills to help convince several students the balance of school and health is attainable for everyone.
Rama’s goal of presenting to the incoming class about preventative medicine and the development of healthy habits has come a long way since last fall.
“I didn’t see this coming,” he said. “When I started doing this in October, I didn’t know the scope of the project, but I’ve gotten so much support from the TCOM faculty and my class, even other students within HSC have really gotten behind this initiative.”
The Class of 2026 has a one-week orientation, and then it’s a head-first dive into medical school. Rama and the Class of 2025 have already given them their first lesson and three pillars to always remember, sleep, exercise and nutrition.