Emmanuel McNeely considers himself a “walking epistle” for young Black students who dream of careers in medicine: they can’t fail if they refuse to quit.
That’s the idea behind “The Dr. McNeely Dream (M.D.) Project,” which offers academic and professional development workshops to increase minority representation in medical school. McNeely, a 2012 graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University, has reached thousands of students since he and wife, co-founder and fellow medical student Sa’Rah McNeely began speaking in 2014.
McNeely is enrolled in Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, where he will complete his doctorate in medicine in 2023. He’s taken time away from his courses for a second year of spine surgery research at Johns Hopkins University. He plans to do an orthopedic surgeon residency upon graduation.
“Unfortunately in the Black community, if you want to be a surgeon, there’s not typically someone there who can lead you,” McNeely said. “You’re really counter-cultural.”
McNeely’s interest in medicine began in high school, when he earned a paid internship at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. McNeely shadowed a surgeon – a fellow believer – who removed cancer in other people after God healed him from cancer.
The McNeelys co-authored a workbook, “The Dream Protection Guide” with study tips, mentoring advice, goal-setting strategies and their personal stories of overcoming challenges.
“All of our lessons learned, we put in a very non-intimidating book,” McNeely said. “This is more than a career; it’s a ministry.”
The ministry launched at PBA, where McNeely transferred after his freshman year on a scholarship at a state university near his Chicago-area home. He had never been to West Palm Beach before, nor had he attended a Christian school. But he was hooked on the idea.
McNeely remembers his first night in the Rubin Arena, listening in rapt attention as a ministry major preached a message. Never mind that McNeely had just driven non-stop from Chicago to West Palm Beach.
Campus Pastor Bernie Cueto described McNeely as “one of those students that you knew would excel in whatever vocation God had in store for him.”
“Whether he was engaged in chapel during a message, emceeing a basketball game or blazing a new trail in medicine, Emmanuel was always thinking of others before himself,” Cueto said.
Between his medicinal and biological chemistry classes, McNeely played the drums in chapel and served as the announcer for athletics contests. He credits the latter with developing his public-speaking skills. Additionally, he conducted undergraduate research that aligned with his interest in cancer drug development.
“PBA was a launching pad,” McNeely said. “I want to give that sense of how big of a blessing PBA has been. While it was so good spiritually, emotionally and growing me up to be a man of God, it also was great professionally.”
McNeely went on to earn his Master of Health Administration and Master of Science in Biomedical Science from Florida Atlantic University, where he taught six introductory biology courses and an anatomy lab course. In addition, he conducted research at Holy Cross Orthopedic Institute in Fort Lauderdale.
In his spine surgery research at Johns Hopkins, McNeely helps run clinical trials on patients with spinal deformities.
Despite his demanding schedule, McNeely views now as the ideal time to mentor other young people. He knows what it’s like to be a first-generation college student, to overcome financial hurdles, to keep going after getting a D on an exam.
“There’s a real blessing in a medical student who’s not so far removed from the struggle teaching them how to overcome adversity,” McNeely said. “I am more useful now than I ever will be. If I wait until the end, I’ll be too many steps ahead to reach them.”
Johns Hopkins hosts a lecture series for students from Baltimore. They hear from the hospital’s human resources staff, doctors and nurses, who teach from the McNeelys’ Dream Project curriculum, McNeely said.
Recently, the hospital included McNeely in a “Physicians Stand with You” video against racial discrimination and police brutality. The video spot led a local television station to interview McNeely about the power of solidarity.
“I’m not bragging on myself,” McNeely said. “This is all God.”
Now at a stage in his career where he sits for eight-hour board exams, he employs a strategy he learned at PBA: the power of prayer. He recalls his professor pausing to pray before his first big exam a decade ago.
“Testing anxiety is unreal,” McNeely said. “I can’t express how calming it was to pray with your teacher and colleagues.”
In their free time, the McNeelys are involved with youth ministry at their church, All Nations Worship Assembly Baltimore. They plan to speak to 50 young people about purity, goal-setting and next steps. They serve on a team of youth ministers planning a virtual conference that could help them reach thousands more teenagers with their message.
Their vision is to equip ambassadors to teach Dream Project workshops, ideally at PBA and beyond.
“We are increasing the number of minority students entering higher education and hopefully duplicating ourselves,” McNeely said. “That was the whole reason we got blessed.”
Photo 1: Emmanuel McNeely, a 2012 Palm Beach Atlantic graduate and medical student, speaks to young people about pursuing careers in medicine. He started the Dr. McNeely Dream (M.D.) Project with his wife, Sa'Rah McNeely, to increase minority representation in medicine.
Photo 2: McNeely poses for a photo with young men who heard him speak about careers in medicine as part of the Dr. McNeely Dream (M.D.) Project.
Photo 3: McNeely serves with youth at All Nations Worship Assembly Baltimore.
Photo 4: McNeely is conducting spine surgery research at Johns Hopkins University.
Photo 5: Johns Hopkins University hosts students from Baltimore for workshops that use the McNeelys' Dream Project curriculum.