Joel Bervell, 26
Medical student, Washington State University
Joel Bervell was a Mukilteo middle school student when he and his siblings created a nonprofit called Hugs for Ghana.
Since 2007, Hugs for Ghana has raised more than $500,000 for medical and school supplies for children in Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone.
Each year, Bervell travels to those countries, bringing supplies and donations. Multiple schools nationwide have started their own chapters “encouraging young students to look beyond their immediate worldview to enact change,” said Bervell, a Kamiak High School graduate.
Now 26, Bervell is a third-year medical student at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane.
Despite a hectic schedule, he is also a social medical educator on TikTok and Instagram, highlighting racial disparities in the field of medicine, busting medical myths and telling previously untold stories.
“I’m in the medical field, and I’ve seen first hand how misinformation can spread,” Bervell said. “I wanted to make a change and educate audiences about the disparities I knew existed.”
In a series of videos called “Racial Biases in Medicine,” Bervell notes that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth.
In another example, he laments the fact current medical school education doesn’t always explain how skin problems — from rashes to melanoma — can differ in appearance on dark skin versus light skin, an oversight that can lead to misdiagnosis, Bervell said.
“My goal is to educate patients, particularly patients of color, and to empower them to be able to take their health into their own hands,” Bervell said.
In 2021, TikTok named him the top “Voice for Change.”
An Emerging Leaders nominator wrote: “Throughout his life, Joel’s main focus has been shining a light on racism, health disparities and the lack of diversity in medicine, all of which contributes to the health disparities that we see in communities of color.”
“He has found straightforward ways of doing this by serving in various director roles of multiple organizations, such as the Jones Zimmerman Mentoring Academic Program, Hope-in-a-Box and at Greater Trinity Academy as STEM curriculum director.”
Bervell is working with the World Health Organization Digital Communications Team to combat the spread of misinformation on social media about COVID-19 and other health issues. He is part of a diversity, equity and inclusion project with the Veterans Affairs hospital systems.
Bervell has been invited to speak to important audiences at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Clinton Foundation, the Network of the National Library of Medicine and corporations. He has been featured on “Good Morning America,” NPR, YahooNews and Web MD, among other media outlets.
Bervell’s parents emigrated from Ghana to Canada, where he was born. The eventually immigrated to the United States, settling in Mukilteo.
“My parents always impressed on my siblings and me the importance of education — and did whatever they could to support us,” Bervell said.
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: @JanicePods.