KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At a time when people are leaving the medical field after a long two years in the pandemic, there's the next generation of doctors ready to help — starting this weekend.
Joe Li is about to graduate medical school from Kansas City University and walk across the stage to get his degree for the first time ever.
"I was never really academically inclined. When I was like growing up, it was hard," Li said.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Li spent most of his time working to support his family who immigrated from Hong Kong instead of hitting the books.
"My mom held two jobs and it was really hard for her, so I didn't want to, you know, burden her," Li said.
He was almost two years behind in high school until a guidance counselor had a heart to heart with him.
"You have you know, a lot a lot to give and there's a lot of chances out there, just opportunity," Li said recalling the conversation with the guidance counselor "What are you doing with your life? And you're really, you really can't if you just keep going, you're going to drop out you know, you might not even you know, get a good job."
He got back on track. Li graduated high school, went on to get a Bachelor of Science and enrolled at Kansas City University to become a doctor.
"The reason why I want to become a physician, is because I can serve as a gateway for some communities so they can ask an access information," Li said.
He saw that need during the pandemic when it took the life of one of his grandfathers. The loss gave him strength.
"The best kind of physician is one who is empathetic, nice and is able to take care of patients no matter what else is going on around them," Dr. Guatam Desai, professor at Kansas City University said. "So, despite all the challenges, he was able to overcome those and just focus on being the best physician that he can be."
His family can't wait to officially call him Doctor Joe Li.
"I surprised myself, so I'm really honored to be in this position and having all these opportunities," Li said.
Once the ceremonies are over this weekend, he'll return to New York City where he'll complete his residency at Mount Sinai hospital.
That'll take three years— the end goal to continue serving those in underserved communities.
He wishes those who view him as role model can treat others with kindness.
"We are just trying to live and live the best life we can live, so why not help each other while we’re doing that?" Li said.
Li is one of 278 students graduating at the Kansas City campus Saturday.