Voices of HMSOM: McGrath is a Voice for the Underserved   

Voices of HMSOM: McGrath is a Voice for the Underserved

Thomas McGrath

When Thomas McGrath was growing up in Hasbrouck Heights, not far from Hackensack, he admits he didn’t have many plans for his future. Undergrad was hardly on his radar, let alone a degree in medicine. But thanks to the love and support of unrelenting parents, a wonderful high school guidance counselor and a passion for helping underserved populations, this first generation college student is now months away from graduating from Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (HMSOM).

Not many medical students will say they “stumbled into medicine.” But that’s exactly how McGrath describes where he is now. While studying as part of the accelerated doctorate of physical therapy program at Ramapo College, he worked as a rehab tech in a hand and physical therapy office, where patients would always recount their injury, images, and surgeries that landed them in therapy.

“I remember having that feeling of inspiration and intense curiosity for the first time, so I figured it was something to look into,” Thomas explained.

That experience proved to be pivotal. During his junior year of undergrad, Thomas took a leap of faith and made the jump to aim for medicine.


Even though he grew up just a few miles away from the campus, the idea of medical school still felt foreign. However, once he did have that undergrad epiphany and started applying, the Human Dimension curriculum at SOM is something that really spoke to him.

Thomas McGrath

“It gave me the vocabulary to understand what I was trying to accomplish as a physician. On my interview day, it became clear that these values were core to the school.”

During his time at SOM, Thomas’ outreach to underserved communities has been critical. His work as a visiting student in Chinle, AZ last year – where he provided healthcare to patients in the heart of the Navajo Nation – was one of the most eye opening experiences of his career so far.

“The blending of culture, history, and politics needed to deliver care was so profound, it refined the way I viewed delivering care on a micro and macro level. I remember the new, single mother who came in for a postpartum visit. Hours after delivery, her child developed severe health issues for unknown reasons, resulting in him being airlifted to the nearest pediatric hospital five hours away. While I was talking with her about how she was managing, she broke down. I was able to offer her an admission to our hospital. She accepted, allowing the staff to monitor her baby while she was connected to integrated behavioral health services, a lactation consultant, and a decent night’s sleep.”


During his time at SOM, McGrath has taken a significant role in promoting the wellness and care of LGBTQ+ patients. As the student lead for Hackensack Meridian Health’s Department of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, he says too often the healthcare system does not fully appreciate the tailored approach needed when treating this community. He also led an initiative at Union City High School to develop and integrate LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education into their core health curriculum. He says the passion for this work stems from his own personal experiences, as a young gay man and the care he received from a local community health organization – Buddies of New Jersey in Hackensack.

He also worked with staff of nearby New Milford High School to improve LGBTQ+ awareness and sensitivity. The high school had approached the Hackensack Meridian Works Program to ask for help in making students feel safe and welcome. Thomas’ leadership helped them implement a new focus on working with the school’s trans and nonbinary students.

“In med school, it didn’t really hit me that I was given a platform until our first community engagement project with Human Dimension – when people actually sought out and appreciated our advice. It was a pivotal moment for me when I finally understood that I was a person who could actually make an impact. So, I took that momentum and ran. Addressing the glaring disparities in medicine cannot be achieved with a prescription pad. It can only be addressed with policy,” he said.


With graduation now in view, Thomas has his sights set on eventually becoming a family physician in an underserved area where he can make behavioral health, addiction medicine and LGBTQ+ care more accessible for both adults and children. He’s finally overcome what he calls his biggest challenge along the way: believing medicine was a place for him and he could succeed in this world. He credits his parents, his advisors, peers and mentors for helping him break that own personal barrier – so he may dedicate his life as a doctor to helping others do the same.

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