A calling to care for others

Yagmur Bingül’s volunteering to help earthquake victims in her native Turkey strengthened her commitment to service.

The final line of the Hippocratic Oath for physicians reads, “May I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.” Yagmur Bingül, ’24, demonstrated this commitment when she flew home to Turkey in February 2023 to assist victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Now, she’s poised to continue that trajectory as one of the very small number of international students who earn spots in U.S. medical schools.

Bingül was only 5 years old when her newborn brother, Muratcan, experienced neonatal convulsions. “It was very traumatic,” she says. “They told us he was going to either die or be paralyzed.” After several months in the local hospital, the family connected with a specialist in Istanbul who performed life-saving surgery that fully restored her brother’s health. “I decided I wanted to be just like that doctor,” Bingül says.

Being accepted to Richmond and the Richmond Scholars Program “changed my life,” says Bingül, who majored in biochemistry and molecular biology. “It has given me so many opportunities that I didn’t know existed.” She joined UREMS, the university’s emergency medical services team, and became a clinical assistant in the student health center. “I’ve grown so much,” she says. “I’ve improved my communication skills and become more professional and compassionate in how I approach patients.”

She was a junior when the earthquake suddenly devastated southern central Turkey. Her immediate family was safe, but she felt compelled to put her growing skills to use for others back home. “I thought it was my responsibility to try to help as many people as possible,” she says. The Office of Scholars and Fellowships funded her travel to her home city of Adana, where she volunteered in Seyhan State Hospital.

It was fulfilling to give back to my community. I could see the impact.

For a week, she helped admit patients, some of whom had broken or lost limbs, to the emergency room. She visited temporary shelters with a psychologist to assess the mental health of displaced victims. In the obstetrics department, she tended to grieving mothers who miscarried amid the trauma. “It was fulfilling to give back to my community,” she says. “I could see the impact on the patients.”

Her experience in Turkey featured prominently in her interview at VCU, where she will attend medical school. She is the first Turkish national to be admitted to its program and the third international student from UR to attend a U.S. medical school during the past 20 years. Overall, international students accounted for only 143 of the nearly 23,000 students admitted to U.S. medical schools in 2023, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Bingül is grateful for the support from Richmond friends and faculty who helped her fulfill her dream. “The process of applying for medical school was so difficult that I had some doubts about becoming a physician,” she says. “But after volunteering in Turkey, I knew it was the only path for me.”