Just studying medicine isn't enough for Davontae Willis.

Just studying medicine isn't enough for Davontae Willis.

The 2013 Canal Winchester High School graduate has mapped out a nontraditional course of study for himself as he prepares to one day practice medicine in urban clinics and connect with Doctors Without Borders.

Willis, the first member of his family to attend college, is about to begin his second year at Vanderbilt University, where he is pursuing courses in medicine, health and society, and African American diaspora studies.

He was recently awarded a United Health Foundation scholarship to help him reach his goals.

He said the $8,000 per year scholarship will go a long way toward helping him focus more on being a student and less on student debt.

"The UHF Scholarship has given me a leap over the financial burdens that many students face today," Willis said. "I have not had to worry about my tuition, which has allowed me to strengthen other areas of my life, like academics and extracurricular."

Besides excelling in his studies in high school, and now at Vanderbilt, he ultimately hopes to attend Columbia University's College of Medicine -- but with an extra step along the way that will take him overseas.

"I plan to take a gap year between my undergraduate and MD/Ph.D. program in Ghana, where I will participate in a qualitative research program, immersing myself into the Ghanaian culture," Willis said.

"I hope to bring my passions for nontraditional research to medical school, where I'll obtain my MD/Ph.D. and eventually continue my medical-sociology research."

This mix of social studies and medicine is not a traditional medical program route, he said, but he believes it is the best course for how he hopes to serve the community once his studies are concluded.

"Eventually, I'd like to work in urban clinics and serve that community," Willis said.

"I plan to connect with Doctors Without Borders, too, to travel internationally and work with surgeons performing different procedures as well as conducting research in the respective countries."

Willis recently traveled to Nepal, where he volunteered at a facility for children age 14 and younger who have HIV/AIDS.

"I consider (it) my greatest and most moving experience," he said.

According to United Health Foundation's Diverse Scholars Initiative representative Ben Arens, through its partner organizations, the foundation will award nearly $2 million in scholarships during the 2014-15 school year to students from diverse, multicultural backgrounds.

The initiative aims to increase diversity in the health-care workforce by supporting promising future professionals as they pursue their education.