BYU student pursues medicine after life-altering volunteer work in Haiti

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The operating room in the poor, Bon Samaritan Hospital in Limbé, Haiti is humble with a hard concrete floor and outdated operating tools. But all Ariana Harris notices as she performs a surgery is the beauty of life.

“As I felt the inside abdominal organs of the Haitian women, her body became beautiful to me,” Harris said, “I realized then that we are not accidents but all are created for a divine purpose. We are all truly equal. I decided then that I wanted to go into the medical field.”

Harris, a BYU undergraduate, spent a summer in Haiti, volunteering with surgeons who were using their vacation days to perform operations at no cost.

Ariana Harris, making family, education and service her foundation. (Photo: Daniel Kellis)
Ariana Harris was deeply moved by her volunteer opportunities in Haiti. This has led her to expand her education and pursue a career in medicine. (Daniel Kellis)

It was through experiences like serving in Haiti that has helped Harris choose to go into the medical field. She loves the idea of healing, both healing others physically and emotionally. But going into medicine hasn’t been easy for Harris. Difficult pre-med course loads and mental illness has made things difficult, but still attainable.

During her sophomore year of college, Ariana Harris was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. This has only increased Harris’s depth of compassion and strengthened her resolve to heal, help and serve in the field of medicine.

“When we reach obstacles in our academics or career paths, it doesn’t mean that the Lord is telling us to stop or give up,” she said. “Sometimes it means we need to reassess our options and find a different path to reach the same goal.”

Going into clinical psychology and later becoming a surgeon is Harris’s way of channeling her compassion for others in her future work.

“I do not believe that there is service and there is work. I think it is the same. Being a surgeon and a doctor is going to be the way I will do that.”

Harris is currently involved in the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a support group for college students at BYU with mental illness. Harris has taken great pride in helping students channel mental illness and different struggles into advantages as they go through school and pursue their careers.

Harris is the daughter of well-educated parents, a Tongan man and a women with a rich New England heritage. “Family is very important to me,” she said. “I am proud of my own family heritage and see all those that I love in life as family.”

One of the main things that Ariana Harris’s family has taught her is the value of education. “My mom is the first generation to go to college. My grandfather was the minister of education in Tonga,” Harris said

Her grandfather was the person to give Ariana her the middle name of “Fanefie’ilo” which means, “One that delights in seeking knowledge.”

Her desire to do good and understanding the innate beauty of every human on earth has helped her find purpose in her decision.

“You can find purpose when you look to do good in your life and profession; I felt the love for people suffering in those hard conditions in Haiti. I learned about the faith and compassion it takes to heal and also be healed,” she said.

Harris has found purpose as she seeks to come closer to Jesus Christ by healing. “By healing the sick I realized I could do something that Christ himself did. In a way I felt the surgeons I worked with were intermediaries for God,” she said.

Volunteering in Haiti, serving family in need, and blessing the lives of fellow students has helped Harris gain a greater perspective of the value of each person on earth. Her love for family and drive for education has set a foundation that will create a lifetime of love and service for all she encounters.

Harris is applying to be a psychology major and hopes to pursue a master’s in clinical psychology. There she plans on doing research and service. She also plans on taking pre-medial courses post grad to continue to her dream of becoming a surgeon.

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