Michael Harding sat in the back of pickup truck nestled in the mountains of Honduras near his family’s coffee plantation. As morning broke, the dirt road lead towards an unremarkable building, where a line of weary patients had formed. He had arrived at his uncles’ clinic. Here, Harding would quietly watch his uncle mend fingers from machete injuries and console a man whose best chance of survival was a hospital 75 minutes away. Here, Harding would discover his drive to heal and serve others. Seven years later, Harding will join the Class of 2022 at Indiana University School of Medicine.
Harding didn’t always know he wanted to become a doctor. He’d always been interested in people; observing and studying them through art, specifically photography. Harding’s first two years of undergraduate education were in fine arts, where he developed a keen eye.
“Often, when I tell people that I wanted to work in art and have since transferred to medicine, I am met with bewilderment,” Harding said. “Art and medicine, to me, are intimately linked. They have both shaped civilizations, have transcendent qualities and can heal people for reasons not entirely understood. Ultimately, I chose medicine because it is what I loved to study and being a physician was the way in which I wanted to impact the community.”
A Commitment to his Community
Deciding to redirect his efforts to medicine wasn’t an undertaking Harding took lightly though. “Beginning my journey into the field of medicine, I quickly began to uncover the scope and magnitude of what I had just begun; the road to medicine is not a simple decision but a lifelong commitment,” Harding said. A commitment he’d seen firsthand with two of his uncles, who have now expanded their practice to a hospital, complete with a surgical theater and rotating specialists—a first for the rural community they operate in. Even with the new investments, Harding’s uncles only charges patients 60 Lempiras, or approximately $2.56 per visit. Harding recalls one of his uncles jokingly pulling a 90s-era ad for a speedboat out of his desk drawer once as motivation for coming to work. But really, it’s the reward of serving his community that keeps him going and inspired Harding to do the same.
Once he made the decision to pursue medicine, Harding didn’t waste time. He quickly threw himself into medical work with the American Red Cross while in undergrad. As a first aid station team leader he coordinated care for crowds of up to 80,000 people.
“[With the American Red Cross] I cooled and rehydrated scores of fans, bandaged intoxicated patients in handcuffs and grasped the importance of concise communication in a clinical setting,” Harding said. “By helping others thrive in this chaotic, makeshift clinic, I found my joy and excitement for leadership.”
Taking the Next Steps
In his hometown of Palm Harbor, Florida, Harding led children to healthier lifestyles as a physical education coach. Harding also completed numerous missions trips where he connected with children in Haiti, Guatemala and Alabama. While it’s still early, Harding finds it difficult to imagine pursuing a specialty that doesn’t relate to pediatrics and preventative care. Harding’s mother, the youngest of nine children, grew up in Honduras. There, she faced hardships that at times got in the way of her childhood. Harding hopes to provide care that prevents illness from getting in the way of kids being kids.
After years of building up to the moment he firsts dons his white coat, Harding is both excited and nervous to begin medical school. Throughout the past few years, academic and financial obstacles have tested his passion for medicine. Now, with a medical scholarship, a master’s degree in medical sciences and the stories of his uncle’s patients in Honduras reminding him why he chose this vocation, Harding can’t wait to begin serving as a doctor-in-training.