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VCOM-Virginia Alumni Are Paying It Forward

Amar and Sonul posing with family after VCOM graduation
By Amy Ostroth -

Both Amar Mukhtar, DO, and Sonul Gulati, DO, are first-generation medical students whose families hail from different parts of the globe: Dr. Mukhtar’s family is from Sudan, and Dr. Gulati’s family is from India. VCOM’s commitment to international outreach was a key part of their experience as students, and now they are paying that commitment forward through their MedDreams Foundation. 

VCOM was the only medical school Dr. Mukhtar applied to, even though he’d never heard of osteopathic medicine until he was introduced to it while an honors student at nearby Virginia Tech.

The more I learned about it, and asked questions, the more VCOM made sense with everything that I was planning to do in my career, with a real focus on underserved communities.

Amar Mukhtar, DO

Dr. Mukhtar recalls having a vision to return to Sudan to start a clinic, and before his College interview, he’d never heard of a medical school having an international program quite like VCOM’s. That piqued his interest in attending.  

Before heading to George Mason University as a freshman, Dr. Gulati didn’t know that he wanted to attend medical school. But once he did decide that was his future, he began attending medical school open houses. That’s how he found VCOM. “Something stood out about it, immediately,” Dr. Gulati recalls. “I remember telling my mom, ‘This is the place. This place is awesome.’” For Dr. Gulati, VCOM’s dedication to providing care to the medically underserved, both in this country and abroad, was a key factor in his decision to choose VCOM. “I respected the fact that not only did they go on a mission trip, but they also had a clinic,” Dr. Gulati notes. “The patients get ongoing care, not just when VCOM is there.” 

VCOM-Virginia’s international trips gave them a chance to interact with patients and put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. Obviously, the experience was one where there was a lot of personal satisfaction from making a difference in the life of the patients, but Dr. Mukhtar notes that the ability to interact with their faculty was also important. “You get to see their human side and picture your life after training. They’re normal and having fun,” he chuckles. That was a meaningful realization for a first-generation medical student who didn’t have a complete understanding of life as a doctor.  

Dr. Gulati remembers taking baseball cards to give as gifts during his trip to the Dominican Republic. “I remember an 8-year-old kid who was playing with his cards and opening and showing them to everyone,” Dr. Gulati recalls. “I asked him, ‘Do you even know who these people are?’ He said no, but he smiled big and ran away. I realized that it wasn't about the gifts. It was just that he felt loved. Someone gave him something, and he felt gratitude for it, and that's what it's all about.”

Despite having met during orientation, Drs. Gulati and Mukhtar did not know each other particularly well until just prior to their graduation from VCOM in 2016, when a group had planned a European vacation. In the end, it was just the two of them, and it was a pivotal moment in their relationship where they truly came to know each other and understand all they had in common.

Several years later, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gulati reached out to Dr. Mukhtar and asked him to go on another trip through VCOM, but the trips were so popular that there was a waiting list to attend. That inspired them to think about how they might offer additional opportunities for physicians and students—from VCOM and other medical schools—to participate in international outreach. Thus, the MedDreams Foundation was born. “Seeing VCOM put together these impactful trips in South America gave us the confidence to say, ‘Hey, we think we can make an impact here as well,’” says Dr. Mukhtar. 

For Dr. Gulati, his international work is a way to give back. “VCOM took a risk on me,” he observes. “I might have not been the strongest candidate, but they saw something in me. So, I feel like it’s my job to give back. I can do that using what they taught me to become a physician and helping the underserved community.”  He goes on to say that leaving the United States and going to places like Monterrey, Mexico—where the MedDreams Foundation will host its first trip this summer—is particularly gratifying. “Certainly, working in the hospital makes a difference. I feel like I am making a difference in the world, but I think if I wasn't working there, there'd be another doctor there. In Monterrey, if we don't go, there are no other doctors who are going. I feel like I’m making an even bigger difference.” 

You get to learn about their cultures. You make lasting relationships with the other medical students. And then after that, you also get a chance to go and experience the city. It doesn't get better than that.

Sonul Gulati, DO

Their vision of the future for the MedDreams Foundation is to help build or grow a facility in Monterrey—and anywhere else they might go. “We want to help in whatever way we can and make sure that our presence is sustained,” Dr. Mukhtar says. “Eventually, we want to have a layered platform where residents are teaching med students, the med students are helping undergrads, and the attending providers are helping them all.” 

Both acknowledge that if they didn’t have the blueprint from VCOM, they wouldn’t be sure they could make these trips happen. Dean Sutphin, VCOM’s vice provost for international and Appalachian outreach, has given them guidance and expertise that has been key to getting the work of the foundation going. When they recently hit a speed bump getting insurance, for example, they reached out to Sutphin, who is extremely passionate about this kind of work, and he replied very quickly to help them through it. 

They say there is nothing quite like the feeling of helping others on international trips. “You learn so much about other people in the world and different cultures and different perspectives,” Dr. Mukhtar observes. “And you learn to have an open mind when you see something that you're not used to. It is really important to get out of your locality and see something different and understand that people have different ways of doing things.” 

Learn more about the MedDreams Foundation at  

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