Diversity & Community Partnerships

Kelechi Anudokem

Hometown: Sacramento, CA

I chose UCSD PRIME-HEq because I am invested in working with underserved communities and addressing health disparities that are keeping these communities from accessing quality healthcare. UCSD PRIME is dedicated in helping students reach their goals of improving conditions within underserved communities. I am a first generation Nigerian American and having had the opportunity to go back and visit, I saw the extreme poverty that plagued many of Nigeria's citizens, preventing many of them from accessing quality healthcare. This propelled my drive to improve conditions for those who have little to no healthcare access. I chose UCSD PRIME HEq because this program will provide me with the tools to address and resolve socioeconomic issues and lack of education within underserved communities in the U.S in order to improve their overall quality of life.

Alicia DiGianmarino

Hometown: Mc Lean, VA

I am very passionate about the patient experience and believe strongly that what happens to you from the moment you enter the clinic doors impacts your health and well-being. After studying medical anthropology and public health as an undergraduate, I served for one year through AmeriCorp as a Patient Experience Coordinator at a clinic in San Francisco serving a low-income, multicultural population. This experience provided first-hand exposure to the many complex social and cultural determinants of health.

I chose PRIME as a way to connect with others similarly passionate about addressing health-equity and to stay active within this field as I pursue my medical studies. Now, as a part of PRIME, I am pursuing a masters in Behavioral Health, which will provide a strong foundation for serving as a Medical Advocate in the future. With this work I would like to help patients become engaged in their care such that they are able to make the most informed healthcare decisions possible.

Sherise Epstein

Hometown: Airville, PA

I do not come from an educated or affluent family. We have never had health insurance. Growing up, my understanding of healthcare was that it was financially crippling and only to be sought in the most dire of circumstances. Once disillusioned to normative health values, I decided to dedicate my career to improving healthcare for uninsured and marginalized patients.

I chose the PRogram In Medical Education-Health Equity (PRIME-Health Equity) because of the support for obtaining critical advocacy skills, the network of ambitious people primarily dedicated to the underserved, and, most saliently, the overall vision that many differences in population health are unjust, avoidable, and require remediation. In brief, PRIME-Health Equity is a dual degree program. It’s primarily composed of a semi-structured preclinical curriculum in introductory public health and a master’s degree of the student’s choosing. There are many ancillary opportunities to work on clinical practice, community interventions, and more, among diverse underserved patient populations.

Looking back on my experience, I am very happy with my training. I entered medical school with a fierce, but poorly focused, passion for helping uninsured and marginalized patients. PRIME-Health Equity was integral to transforming my abstract ideas of advocacy into a directed, actionable plan uniquely suited to my deepest passions. With each course, I obtained a new tool to explore public health, and I began whittling out the contours of my career. For instance, at the Student-Run Free Clinic, painfully disfigured hands and backs taught me of inadequate labor policy and economic injustice. These hands gestured to my own grandfather’s hands, ravaged by farm work. They percolated through my mind during my master’s coursework in injury epidemiology, occupational health, and public policy. My research began focusing on work-related injuries and occupational health disparities. This is just one example of the many ways PRIME-Health Equity has been instrumental in developing my academic identity.

I now look forward to becoming an academic hand surgeon dedicated not only to clinical excellence, but also to the active pursuit of health equity for the underserved working age population. Because of PRIME-Health Equity, I feel well-equipped for the dawn of this pursuit.

Silvia Fonseca

Lorenzo Gonzalez

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

Medicine is advocacy, and PRIME-HEq is activism manifested. It is not enough to prescribe medication when striving for the health of our patients. Furthermore, fighting for equity in San Diego and Southern California requires the embedded critical deconstruction of socioeconomic, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and geo-spatial identities that define our health. Through structured and independent experiences, PRIME-HEq allowed me to explore the complexities of multiple health systems, distinct refugee communities with varying degree of establishment, and experiencing medicine through a fluid bi-national population residing in San Diego and Tijuana.

Moreover, PRIME-HEq has been supportive of my interest in Urban Planning and Development as I combined my passion for health and its intersection with the built environment. Through the use of innovative community planning and justice-oriented medicine, we can harness institutional resources and community collective power to address the systemic oppressive conditions that manifest into disease. I believe PRIME-HEq has given me the confidence and legitimacy to actively expand the obligation of a physician to include the hospital, clinic, and every sector in between that impacts the lives of our patients.

"Es necesario re-educar al deseo. Enseñarle al deseo a desear, a desear mejor, a desear más, y sobre todo a desear de un modo diferente." - Rafael Guillén Vicente

Lue Lao

Hometown: Chico, CA

From an early age, I've witnessed the health disparities due sociocultural barriers. Cultural and language barriers made it difficult for my parents to get the medical care they needed. My mother felt like there was no doctor that would 'listen' to her or take the time to get to know her cultural belief/cause of her illness. Inspired by their struggles, I decided to study pre-med at UC Davis. During my time at UC Davis, I volunteered in the Hmong community and community clinic in Sacramento. To my surprise, many of the barriers and challenges I've witnessed in my family still exist in my community. Similarly, many of these barriers were also faced by other underserved communities, especially the Latino(a)/Hispanic communities. I was fortunate to go on medical mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico and work with patients from the Spanish-speaking community to learn more about their culture, beliefs, religions, and challenges. It was this realization that I've decided to do the UCSD PRIME-HEq. I believe in providing a culturally sensitive and holistic medical care, health equity, and social justices for all patients, regardless of their race, ethnicity, color, and/or country of origin.

Christian Lopez

Hometown: San Diego, CA

I want to live in a world in which our healthcare system recognizes and effectively addresses health disparities. For this reason, I chose UCSD PRIME-HEq. This program expands students’ capacities to promote health equity and become socially-driven public health practitioners. Through a variety of diverse community engagement and research opportunities, PRIME-HEq fosters the development of physician leaders and advocates for all vulnerable patient populations. In addition, UCSD PRIME-HEq provides students with the opportunity to pursue a master's degree of their own choosing that complements their individual interests and endeavors for addressing unjust differences in access and quality healthcare. Furthermore, PRIME-HEq creates a space for like-minded people that can learn from each other and unite towards a common vision. Born in Tijuana and raised in San Diego, UCSD PRIME-HEq provided me with the perfect opportunity to learn from and give back to the community that raised me.

Austin Parish

Hometown: Santa Rosa, CA

Throughout my life, from my experiences growing up in rural Oregon to my time as an inner city school teacher, I have lived and seen the effects of healthcare inequality. After deciding to commit myself to combating health inequity, I joined UCSD's PRIME-HEq, where I have had many opportunities to study and reshape the forces affecting the health of underserved populations.

I view medicine, ideally, as a way of reducing suffering and increasing human happiness and flourishing in the world. I also hold strongly to the importance of rigorous evidence, efficiency, and distributive justice. The most vulnerable populations in the world - those whose health is the most unstable, whose continuity of care is the most tenuous, who develop the most severe pathologies - are also populations where there are tremendous chances to aid human flourishing. Through my time in medical school, my efforts have been shaped by this outlook, as I worked on projects in Mexico, China and in free clinics in the United States. 

With UCSD's PRIME-HEq, I found a group of inspiring, like-minded individuals that I've grown with over the years as we focus on different parts of medicine and aspects of healthcare inequality. I have found few endeavors as consistently rewarding as this, and as I enter residency I will be taking all of the lessons and inspiration I've gained during this time with me.

Carissa Santos

Nicole Tantoco

Hometown: San Ramon, CA

I initially wanted to channel my indignation at inequity and excitement for future change into health policy and advocacy, a top-down approach to improving health care systems. I worked at the Asian Liver Center, the first non-profit organization that addresses the disproportionately high rates of chronic hepatitis B and liver cancer among Asians and Asian Americans. During my three years at the center, the fight became more than just a public health challenge for me--it became emblematic of health disparities caused by unequal access to health care. I met too many individuals whose abilities to access health services were restricted by financial and linguistic barriers.

My most transformative experience was volunteering at the Berkeley Free Clinic, which offers education and direct medical services primarily to marginalized clients. Although I had studied systems of oppression as an undergraduate student, I saw firsthand the effects of institutional discrimination during every shift. I struggled to cope with the stories of sexual violence, addiction, and finances, knowing that I could not change the spheres of influence that were preventing clients from accessing basic services. This experience solidified my desire to pursue medicine through an interdisciplinary lens that embraces intersectionality, which is why I am excited, honored, and humbled to be a part of UCSD PRIME-HEq’s family.

During my advocacy efforts, I realized that I am a beneficiary of my class, cis-gender, heterosexual orientation, and native English fluency. This protection against many forms of oppression gives me a unique opportunity to reduce health disparities for those without the same privileges. I chose UCSD PRIME-HEq because I knew I would be surrounded by like-minded social justice advocates.


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