Dwayne at his med school graduation with his mom Kenya (right) and his two sisters, Jasmine (left) and Destiné (middle).

Dr. Dwayne Thomas II had always wanted to become a doctor but remembers specifically wanting to become a pediatrician when he was seven years old. Then tragedy struck his family.

“We just thought she was special, but my mom said ‘No, that’s not supposed to happen.’”

“My passion came from my youngest sister who is 11 years younger than me. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in her left eye and […] at just a few months she had to have her entire eye removed,” he said. “Her eye started changing color. We just thought she was special, but my mom said ‘No, that’s not supposed to happen.’”

His sister thankfully survived, and Dwayne’s path became clear to him. Now, as he’s much further along in making his dream come true, Dwayne realizes that it was not only his sister’s recovery but also his experiences as a scholar at Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore where he learned the importance of networking and persistence. Dwayne is now only weeks away from beginning his General Surgery residency as a Lieutenant with the US Navy in San Diego. He completed four years of medical school at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington DC.

Dwayne with Dr. Jackie Zimmerman, who hooded him during his graduation.

Networking and Persistence

In March, Dwayne attended the annual Boys Hope Girls Hope Leadership Gathering in St. Louis to speak on the highly anticipated Alumni Panel. The next morning, he left St. Louis in the pre-dawn hours for Washington D.C. to attend his Long White Coat/MATCH Day ceremony at Howard, which began just 30 minutes after his plane was scheduled to land. He live-streamed the ceremony on his phone in the car from the airport to keep track of the proceedings.

Through some cosmic coincidence of no flight delays, perfect weather, and favorable traffic, he made it in time and received his doctor’s coat along with his fellow graduates.

“I got back to D.C. and remembered I didn’t have a tie, so I had to stop by my apartment which delayed me ten extra minutes,” Dwayne said. “Baltimore to D.C., with traffic, is about an hour so I got there before my name was called, and that was great! I made it!”

“Seeing all my classmates get up and receive their long, white coat, being surrounded by their loved ones, and having the opportunity to be coated by my mom and sisters was such a great feeling. I shed a tear, it was just surreal,” Dwayne said as he recounted his long-awaited day.

However, it wasn’t necessarily a given that Dwayne would get this far:

2024 Alumni Panel – Left to right: Seth Akakpo-Lado (moderator, Boys Hope Girls Hope of St. Louis alum), Fatima Daniela Sazo (Esperanza Juvenil – Boys Hope Girls Hope of Guatemala), Dr. Dwayne Thomas II, Ruben Lugo (Boys Hope Girls Hope of Detroit), Kadeem Yorke (Boys Hope Girls Hope of Northeastern Ohio), and Apshara Siwakoti (Boys Hope Girls Hope of Colorado). 

“Seeing all my classmates get up and receive their long, white coat, being surrounded by their loved ones, and to also have the opportunity to be coated by my mom and sisters was such a great feeling. I shed a tear, it was just surreal.”

“I applied to medical school once, and didn’t get in,” he said. “This is where the grit, the motivation, perseverance and resilience come in because at that point in time I could have said ‘This isn’t for me.’”

But Dwayne didn’t let that stop him. He set himself a lofty goal before reapplying to medical school:

“I did three years of additional research, and my goal was, before I applied to medical school the second time, that I would publish my first scientific article,” he said.

He published an article based on the research he had done, reaching his goal.

Dwayne said this grit and resilience he displayed during this time in his life was honed and developed during his time with Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore.

Dwayne had just had his 11th birthday when he joined the program in 2004. The headmaster at his school, Jeff Sindler, along with a family friend, Lindy Lord, told his mother, Kenya, that Dwayne was a good candidate for the program. Dwayne’s mom was reluctant to let her eleven-year-old son move into a house full of strangers, but his grandmother encouraged her to let him join, to “give him an opportunity and see where he goes.”

Dwayne holding a copy of the Hippocratic Oath.

Seeing the Path

Dwayne admits he was not entirely sure what he signed himself up for at the time, due to his age, but he was excited to meet the other boys and Chuck Roth, who was the executive director in Baltimore (Roth is now the Executive Director of Boys Hope Girls Hope of New Orleans).

Although Dwayne quickly fell into the routines at the boys house in Baltimore and got along well with the other scholars and team members, he missed his family and felt a little overwhelmed by all the structures that were new to him. In 2006, he left the Residential program for eight months. During that time, he still went to the Baltimore affiliate after school, did homework and hung out.

Eventually, he began to miss the structure offered by Boys Hope Girls Hope. While he had structure at home, he felt that Boys Hope Girls Hope allowed him to focus strictly on his academic performance and “not have to worry about any other subtleties” as he put it. Dwayne eventually rejoined as a residential scholar and stayed until 2011 when he graduated high school and became a Boys Hope Girls Hope collegian.

Dwayne considers his fellow scholars his brothers. Together, they share a commitment to giving back: one of his co-scholars went back to work in the Boys house as team member in Baltimore, then to New Orleans, while Dwayne remained involved in Baltimore as a member on the Program Committee.

Dwayne in 2018 after winning back-to-back MIAA ‘B” Conference Championships as a coach for Loyola Blakefield Ice Hockey team.

“We give back in our own ways. I’m glad I moved back in because of the amount of things that I felt like I missed out on when not physically living there…It’s all pros and cons of course, but the pros outweigh the cons and I’m just forever grateful,” Dwayne said.

After graduating high school, Dwayne attended Loyola University Maryland and then spent four-and-a-half years at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as a Doctoral Diversity Program scholar and research specialist. He enrolled at Howard University College of Medicine in July 2020, while the Covid-19 pandemic tightened its grip on the world.

Dwayne describes going through medical school as a filtering process that helped him refine his focus. As he learned from medical and surgical oncologists and pathologists, all working on pancreatic cancer research, he changed his focus from pediatrics to internal medicine, and finally landed on general surgery.

In what he calls a sterling moment, he was able to observe a pancreaticoduodenectomy, more commonly known as a Whipple procedure, which is often used to treat pancreatic cancer.

“Wow! That blew my mind. I was like, ‘OK, I have to do this’”, Dwayne said.

2014: Dwayne with Dr. James Porterfield, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Johns Hopkins.

Martin Totland

Martin Totland is the Media & Communications Coordinator for Boys Hope Girls Hope Network Headquarters. 

The surgeon who performed the Whipple was Dr. Christopher Wolfgang. As it just so happened, Dwayne had spent seven years coaching Dr. Wolfgang’s son, Joey, in ice hockey at Loyola Blakefield college prep school. Through this connection, and using his networking abilities, Dwayne was able to access many opportunities, such as observing the Whipple procedure which helped clarify his vision.

In the personal statement for his residency application, Dwayne talked about his first time in the operating room, Dr. Wolfgang’s influence, and particularly how he was inspired by surgeons’ ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

“Even on my first day of my general surgery clerkship, during my third year of medical school, the surgeons communicated so well and so effectively that I thought ‘I know I’ve chosen the right specialty.’”

Now, on the cusp of his General Surgery residency with the US Navy, Dwayne is looking ahead. He will be applying for what’s known as a “straight through spot” which would allow him to do all six years with the Navy, without having to leave active duty and complete his residency in the civilian sector. He is considering learning about dive and flight medicine during his service time to diversify his skillset.

Considering his journey and accomplishments, Dwayne knows he has come a long way and made a lot of people proud, especially his family.

“She [Mom] is ecstatic, and my sisters are over the moon for people to find out they have a brother who is a doctor!”

And while there is no way to downplay his achievements, Dwayne knows it won’t change him.

“I’m still the same person! I just have two little extra letters!” he said with a laugh.