After less than a month at Georgetown University School of Medicine, Antonio Webb (M’14) acquired a nickname: “The General.” It’s not because of his military service, though he had served in Iraq, Quatar and Germany, nor his personality—he is rather reserved and soft-spoken. His classmates dubbed him “The General” because of the discipline he applies to his study regimen, a schedule that he admits is comparable to what he has been keeping for the last nine years. “I am patient . . . for a guy in a hurry,” Webb laughs. In the low-income neighborhood of Shreveport, Louisiana, where Webb grew up “nobody went to medical school; nobody even went to college.” Many of his friends and family members wound up in jail or an early grave. But his father, who had served in the military, and as a minister eventually founded his own church, pointed the way toward a different future. Money was always tight—he remembers his dad selling his blood to put food on the table for four kids with no mom in the home. But caring for others in the community was a big part of Webb’s childhood, as he distributed donated food to needy families and visited nursing homes with his father. By his own account, Webb was not “a perfect kid,” but his father’s influence paid off, and Webb’s grades were good enough to earn him a spot in a local medical magnet program for disadvantaged high school students. It was there that he began to envision a future—as a doctor—that must have seemed spectacularly improbable to his contemporaries. Without much access to scholarship counseling, Webb calculated that his ticket to a higher education could only be punched by military service. He managed to graduate six months early in the top 5 percent of his class and with his father’s consent, joined the U.S. Air Force at age 17.
From Mortarville to Medical School
He served full time, while simultaneously carrying a mostly full-time, pre-med course load at the University of Texas. When he pulled night duty, he went to school during the day; with a day shift, he went to school at night. The first member of his family to graduate from college, he did it in six years. “Med school is no breeze,” Webb says, “but I’ve got the sleep deprivation thing down.” While in Iraq, Webb worked as a combat medic and lived on a base known as “Mortarville” for the frequency of the shelling it endured. He recalls one grenade landing so close to him that had it detonated, “I would not be here today.” Webb learned a little Arabic while serving there and, after being offered gifts or money from civilians for his medical care, he gained an understanding of what life was like in a country with virtually no health care. Webb completed his military service in 2009 with a renewed commitment to pursue a career in medicine, despite losing his brother to leukemia while he was overseas. While researching medical schools online, he stumbled upon the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) program, which prepares students from disadvantaged backgrounds for success in medical school. He knew he would need more foundational science, which GEMS provides, to have a shot at medicine. He remembers the day he was accepted to Georgetown’s Medical School—May 28, 2010—with utter clarity. “I was speechless—it was the most unforgettable moment of my life.”
Saying Thanks by Giving Back
Webb is considering a specialty in surgery or emergency medicine because he wants to help patients in trauma. He also wants to bring care to people who don’t typically receive it—by offering preventive care and screenings at barber shops and community gathering places in his old neighborhood, for example. “So many people do not know about high blood pressure or diabetes—where to get it checked, how it can be prevented,” he says. Webb also wants to share his story with other young people and inspire them, the way his mentors inspired him. “A lot of kids don’t have a role model,” he says. “I want them to know if I can do it, they can.” Since coming to D.C., Webb has volunteered as a mentor with two nonprofits that expose high school students to medicine and career opportunities in health care. “I want to hear someday ‘I am in medical school because of you,’” he says. He is also beginning volunteer training for the Hoya Clinic, which provides free medical care to low-income D.C. residents. Webb views his community service as an expression of gratitude to the donors and mentors who helped him along the way. “Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “If my parents had given me everything, I wouldn’t be the person I am. I don’t take anything for granted. I know I am incredibly blessed.” And with that, he heads off to a training session at the Hoya Clinic; a patient man in a hurry.