Alyson Leo '17

Medicine

“They’re actually investing in the health of West Virginians—not just me.”

Today, West Virginia is generally not associated with much opportunity or prosperity. It is a rural state with a relatively low population of just over 1.8 million people, and because of its geographic diversity, access to quality healthcare is a challenge for many residing in the Mountain State.

But while the state may face hardships—especially regarding health and wellness—there are those who recognize the importance of investing in the state’s well-being, from both medical and monetary perspectives.

Alyson Leo, born and raised in Elkins, W.Va., holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from WVU, and is currently a fourth-year medical student at the WVU School of Medicine.

“Getting out of high school, I was awarded the Promise Scholarship, so I knew I wanted to stay in-state and I knew I wanted to do some kind of health professions degree,” she said. “I thought WVU would be a good track to those paths.”

Focusing her education on rural medicine, Leo plans on returning to Elkins or the surrounding area to practice family medicine, a decision shaped by the father of a family friend who is also a physician.

But while the decision to practice rural family medicine was one made on her own, Leo also has an obligation to fulfill the requirements of scholarships she’s been awarded during her time as a student.

“I have a couple different scholarships,” said Leo. “I have one with a service obligation to work in rural West Virginia, and I have two private scholarships that were both awarded to a student who wanted to do rural medicine.”

With such an array of opportunity in the medical field, finding physicians to practice medicine in rural or hard-to-access areas is difficult. But for Leo , the “basis of all the scholarships” she’s received throughout her four years “was to go back into a rural community.”

Because of the commitment donors have made to the WVU School of Medicine, Leo is able to focus her time and efforts on becoming a successful physician, ultimately leading to better healthcare for West Virginians.

“I’m very grateful for the financial assistance I’ve received,” Leo mentioned. “It took a lot of pressure off me. A lot of my classmates have a lot more debt than I do and I see how it impacts their day-to-day decisions. All the expensive books and board tests—it’s not as much of an issue for me. I’m very thankful for that.”

Leo, who plans on giving back through scholarships upon graduation, stressed the importance of scholarships and financial assistance throughout her interview.

When speaking with donors, she mentioned the significance of making sure donors “understand how important those scholarships were” not only to her, but other students as well.

“They’re helping physicians go into rural practice by doing it,” Leo mentioned regarding donors and their commitment to private philanthropy. “They’re actually investing in the health of West Virginians—not just me.”