Dr. Hosea Covington is the kind of doctor you want at your bedside—insatiably curious, calm, patient, and quick to smile. The newly minted M.D. graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in mid-May, a decade after graduating from Normandy High School and five years after leaving the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a degree in biochemistry and biotechnology.
Before heading to the next phase in his career path—four years of anesthesiology residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—Dr. Covington visited the Beyond Housing office in Pine Lawn to reminisce about his experiences with its College Savings Program (also known as Viking Advantage at NHS) and his nontraditional path to medicine.
Dr. Covington is among more than 100 college graduates who’ve benefitted from Viking Advantage, which helps high schoolers set up matched savings accounts for higher education and also mentors them through the process of campus visits, financial reporting, college applications, and more. It’s part of Beyond Housing’s comprehensive approach to community development, which includes housing, health, financial literacy, economic development, and more.
“Viking Advantage started me on the path to my medical degree,” said Covington, who is the first program participant to earn the M.D. title. “I come from a low-income family, and the savings was instrumental to my success. I wouldn’t have had the money for books, a laptop, and tuition. I wouldn’t have been able to graduate. But it’s more than a college savings program, because it also ‘teaches a man how to fish’ and to use available resources.”
“Viking Advantage started me on the path to my medical degree.”Dr. Hosea Covington
STARTING OUT AS A VIKING TYKE
Dr. Covington grew up in Mansion Hill (now part of the UMSL campus), Bel-Ridge, and Normandy. He started attending preschool in the district back when pre-K students were known as Viking Tykes.
During those same years, his father passed away unexpectedly due to heart failure. The loss influenced Dr. Covington’s future health choices—for example, by keeping him away from cigarettes and predisposing him to an active lifestyle—and helped fuel his determination to become a physician, starting in the fourth grade.
He was naturally talented in math and science, and he was curious. “I’m fascinated by every single thing,” Dr. Covington said, cracking a wide smile. “There is so much to life to enjoy and explore and understand, so many things in life that other people overlook but I question.”
His stepfather recognized and fostered this tendency. “Whenever I asked him a question, he would say, ‘I don’t know. You tell me,’” Dr. Covington recalled. “Then he would follow up later on and make sure I looked up the information, whether it was what a word meant or how something worked. He instilled the power of teaching myself at an early age.”
Even today, Dr. Covington demonstrates that curiosity in everyday conversations, whether the topic is cameras or cars. He also focuses his intense attention on himself, his family, and his community. “It’s typical for medical students to question what went down in their family,” he explained. It prompted him to ask to see his father’s death certificate and to make connections between endemic problems like hypertension, obesity and diabetes that affect millions of people across the U.S. “My dad had all of these,” he said, “and that instilled my passion to help.”
A NONTRADITIONAL COLLEGE PATH
At age 17, Dr. Covington joined the Army Reserves. He spent the first year after high school graduation training. Then he started college at UMSL—while working weekends at Best Buy and rising through the Army Reserve ranks to become an E5, the first level of enlisted leadership. “I never had a day off during undergrad,” he said.
By the time he graduated in 2017, he was burnt out. He took another year off, working full time at Best Buy and mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters. “I always wanted a little brother, but my mom said no,” he laughed. He still stays in touch with the young man, who recently graduated from Normandy High School.
Given the two years off, Dr. Covington was a nontraditional student when he entered medical school at Mizzou. By then, he had benefitted from teachers who saw his spark and fostered it, the military training that instilled leadership and discipline, and the constant support of his mom. From the death of his father through her years as a single mother she was indefatigable.
Now that he’s a doctor, Dr. Covington said, “she’s the proudest mom in the world.” But, he added, she’s always exhibited pride in him, no matter what. “She’ll support me in whatever direction I go, even when I make mistakes. She knows deep down I have the best intentions.”
And Dr. Covington needed all the support and encouragement he could get at Mizzou. “Going to medical school is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” he said. In addition to the rigorous coursework and exams, “you have to change the way you move and the way you think. But it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life as well.”
One of the highlights from his studies was helping to establish a community of under-represented minorities at the college, which has what some scholars describe as “a long and troubled racial past.” “It makes me proud to leave that type of mark at Mizzou,” he said.
BECOMING DR. COVINGTON
Initially, Dr. Covington was intrigued by highly visible specialties like brain surgery, assuming that’s where he could make the most impact. But after learning more about the behind-the-scenes world of the operating room during medical school at Mizzou plus a rotation in the ICU at Duke University, he changed his mind and focused on anesthesiology. “I’ll still be in the OR, but making patients feel comfortable,” he explained. “Anesthesiologists are seeing patients on the scariest day of their lives. Sometimes the patient doesn’t even see the surgeon.”
Besides, he realized that what happens outside the hospital can matter as much as what happens inside. “Using your voice, you can affect a lot more individuals,” he said—and that is something that has always been in the back of his mind, ever since he worked on his first cadaver and “saw the results of what we do to ourselves.” He knew from his family history that lifestyle choices matter for disease outcomes, but he also believes that health messaging that simply tells people what not to do, without explaining the why, is futile.
LOOKING AHEAD TO MADISON AND BEYOND
“All across America, there are students who have this burning desire to become something but may not have the resources,” Dr. Covington said. “I’m sure I can reach out to them. I have a great passion for helping others. I’m doing as much public speaking as I can and meeting with individuals to build rapport.”
After his four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he would like to live in a community like Normandy, where he spent his formative years and built so many lifelong relationships. And wherever he lives, he will continue to contribute time, money, and energy to the 24:1 Community. “My entire life’s legacy is going to be about giving back to the community that has given me so much, changing it and leaving it better than I found it,” he said.
His message to Normandy students who hear his story and wonder if they can achieve similar success is simple. “Take advantage of every opportunity you’re offered,” he advised. “Be a go-getter. The steps you take now could benefit you down the road in ways you can’t even imagine.”
When Dr. Covington tells students “You’re your biggest cheerleader,” he’s not suggesting they go it alone. With the support of Normandy teachers and staff, plus programs like Viking Advantage and other resources through Beyond Housing’s comprehensive approach to community development, there is a good possibility that others will soon be joining Dr. Covington among the ranks of those with advanced academic degrees and bright futures ahead.