Brett Heimlich is so involved in community service in Harrisburg neighborhood that it can be hard to tell he is really a medical student at Georgia Regents University.
Heimlich, a fourth year M.D./Ph.D. student at Medical College of Georgia at GRU, will be honored next month with the American Medical Association Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Award. He will be one of 20 who will receive the award during a ceremony Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.
The foundation praised Heimlich’s service, such as creating the “Veggie Truck,” which aims to take locally grown produce into neighborhoods such as Harrisburg that can lack access to fresh, healthful food.
The project recently got two grants, one that will allow it to match government food supplemental program purchases to double the amount that recipients can buy, the other to let the truck begin weekly runs in the spring, Heimlich said. The truck will target Harrisburg first but could expand its range, he said.
“Once we can get a handle at least on what works in Harrisburg, we’re going to hopefully move to places like Olde Town and maybe south Augusta,” Heimlich said.
He and some other medical students live in Harrisburg, which is part of their community service, said Dr. Kathleen M. McKie, the associate dean for student affairs for MCG.
“(Heimlich) is living it by living in Harrisburg,” she said. “That is part of a really neat way to extend himself without usurping all of his private time.”
There is a lot of community service to do, Heimlich said.
“I think sometimes if you were to look at my life you would wonder what I’m doing full time,” he said.
In fact, that might be what is fueling his success, McKie said.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “He would not have performed so well in medical school if he weren’t so happy fulfilling the other things that are of concern and interest to him in life.”
Heimlich is a little conflicted about the awards coming to just him, however.
“I guess it’s been good to be recognized for the success we’ve had,” he said. “It’s definitely unfair to be recognized singly, because it’s most certainly not just me. There’s a whole team of people that are looking to do the same things. It’s been a privilege to work alongside those people.”
Part of that is working through the Harrisburg Family Healthcare Clinic, where he is on the board, and through the Kids with a Future mentoring program at St. Luke United Methodist Church. Even though some of the children have graduated from that program and are now freshmen in high school, Heimlich and others continue to mentor them.
“We have a good time hanging out,” he said. With a few years of doctoral work tucked in among his four years of medical school, Heimlich knows he will have more time to spend with them than some of his colleagues. His hope is that when he graduates in 2016, so will a couple of the kids he mentors – and maybe even go beyond that.
“Having worked with these kids and getting to know them, there is no reason they can’t go to college or they can’t be successful in that sense,” Heimlich said.