Abdul Harris, M.D., ’95

This busy surgeon gives back to underserved communities through pro bono clinical work and youth mentoring.

King/Drew Medical Center in the Los Angeles of the early 1980s was a place where nearby violence constantly lingered, and at times it seemed that mainly victims of brutality entered.

This was often the prevailing image of health care and hospitals among many inner-city youth of nearby Compton and Watts. Gunfire, gangs, and crime filled the streets of the neighborhood, leaving little hope for many others who lived in the community.

However, one person stayed focused on education and sports, which eventually led to a passion for saving lives.

Trauma surgeon Abdul Harris (M.D., ’95) understands firsthand the hardships of having limited access to health care — and what it means to give to struggling neighborhoods. For the past decade, he’s tended to the needs of the underserved while also inspiring young people to pursue their goals.

“I found my calling in medicine to help improve the health and outcomes in underserved, minority communities,” said Harris, an award-winning community volunteer. “I believe it has given me a great appreciation for my quality of life and what I have been able to achieve. And it also pushes me to help others, especially the youth from these communities.”

Due to his contributions of activism, social justice, and volunteerism in medicine, Harris is the recipient of the UC Davis School of Medicine Alumni Association’s 2017 Humanitarian Award.

Focused on service

After completing medical school at UC Davis in 1995 and finishing a surgical residency at UC Davis Medical Center in 2001, Harris began his career at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital as part of the surgical trauma team. Soon the Air Force Reservist was sent overseas to support Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he became part of an expeditionary medicine team and provided medical support to airmen and coalition forces in the field.

Later upon return he joined Operation Access, a nonprofit that bridges the health care gap by providing surgical and specialty care to Northern California patients who can’t afford it. Harris has treated more than 250 patients through the organization, mainly performing gallbladder and hernia surgeries or other outpatient general surgical procedures.

His dedication to youth has also been exemplary. Harris has mentored students at Piner High School in Santa Rosa for a decade — delving into his own journey to surgical practice, and encouraging and inspiring students to persevere through the many forms of adversity they face.

“I want them to see that your life goals and what you aspire to be should not be limited by where you were born, where you live, or what race, nationality, gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation you happen to share,” he said.

Medical hero

Throughout his career, Harris’ self-discipline, motivation, and community participation have played a major role in his many accomplishments, including being awarded as a Medical Hero by the American Red Cross and earning a spot as an influential under-40 leader in Sonoma County. He is currently a staff surgeon at St. Joseph Health Medical Group and a physician managing director at Advanced Surgery Institute LLC.

“Just do your best and never quit!” he said.