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Thomas Zand Refugee Health Initiatives

The UMass Chan Medical School - Family Medicine and Community Health Department annual Thomas Zand Initiatives include three distinct parts: a student scholarship program, a visiting professorship, and a community partner award.  Learn more about all three below and at this year's

2024 FMCH Zand Refugee Health Events: 

Monday, May 20, 6-8pm
Community Celebration of Refugee Health

with presentation of the annual Thomas Zand Partner Recognition Award
18 Chestnut St, Worcester, Lower Conference Room

Tuesday, May 21, 12-1pm
Grand Rounds in Fam Med & Community Health

 Marc Altshuler, MD

Residency Director, Dept of Family and Community Medicine, Jefferson Medical School 
with presentation of the annual Thomas Zand Scholarships 

at noon in the Hyatt Auditorium, S1-608 

Student scholarships: 

The UMass Chan Medical School - Family Medicine and Community Health Department annual Thomas Zand Refugee Health Scholarships support medical students passionate about refugee health and allow them to attend the North American Refugee Health Conference (NARHC). The 2024 conference will be in Minneapolis, MN on August 5-7, 2024. More information about the conference can be found at https://refugeesociety.org/narhc-conference/ 



For 2024, there are two competitive scholarships for UMass Chan medical students:

  • One “Junior Scholarship” for a 1st or 2nd year (2nd or 3rd year at the time of the conference) medical student who demonstrates passion for refugee health as well as commitment and service.
  • One “Senior Scholarship” for a 2nd or 3rd year (3rd and 4th year at the time of the conference) medical student who demonstrates scholarship in refugee health and has submitted a presentation or a poster to the NARHC conference (https://refugeesociety.org/abstract-guidelines/, abstract submissions are due April 1, 2024). Priority will be given to those whose abstracts are accepted at the conference. 

For both scholarships, candidates should: 

  • Have shown exemplary community engaged service and interest in refugee health through engagement in Refugee Health Interest Group, UMass Chan Asylum program or volunteering with local Worcester organizations serving refugees (such as ACE, Ansaar, Ascentria, ORIS, UHAI, RIAC, RISE, WARM, WRAP, Worcester Islamic Center, and any others).
  • Demonstrate commitment to long-term engagement in the field of refugee health. 
  • “Senior Scholarship” students are encouraged to submit presentations with a community partner as co-presenter. If selected, the cost of conference participation for one member of a community organization will be covered up to $2,250.


The scholarships will be for up to $2,250 each on a reimbursement-basis and the following costs are eligible for reimbursement: 

  1. Conference registration fees
  2. Round trip economy air travel
  3. Economy transportation to and from the airport to the destination hotel
  4. Lodging at the conference hotel (or nearby hotel) while attending the conference


If you are interested in this opportunity, please submit your application to maria.barluenga@umassmed.edu. The deadline for applications is April 2, 2024. In your application, please include the following:


  1. CV
  2. Two letters of recommendation including one from a partner organization supporting refugee, asylum seeker or immigrant population.
  3. One page personal statement about yourself and why you should be considered for this scholarship. Please also include the following:

a.      Your year in medical school

b.      Your experience in Refugee Health. 

c.       Your career plans in the area of Refugee Health

d.      Your leadership experience working with community and/or student groups

e.      Why do you want to attend the NARHC conference?

  1. Only for the “Senior Scholarship”: Include a copy of the abstract submission for the NARHC conference. Once the applicants receive notification from NARHC regarding the acceptance of their abstract, they should send a confirmation to maria.barluenga@umassmed.edu

Awardees will be announced by May 15, 2024. Funding will be provided by the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Recipients must review their calendars and ensure that they are available during the time of the conference. Those with clinical training conflicts will be responsible for contacting rotation supervisors to request formal permission to attend the conference. Funding is also available for a community partner representative to attend the conference with our student scholarship winners as a way to encourage true partnership where power is shared and all are meaningfully engaged in the work submitted for presentation.  


About Thomas Zand Award: 

Dr. Thomas Zand was a local pediatrician born to Holocaust survivors in Czechoslovakia. He devoted his entire life to the health and well-being of children, was an advocate of refugees and displaced peoples and a strong proponent of education. These awards are meant to honor him and his passions. After his passing the estate of Dr. Zand was established and some of the funds were awarded to the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at UMass to promote Refugee health training at UMass Chan Medical School. 

Our inaugural event occurred on June 20, 2023- World Refugee Day, with inaugural speaker Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu.  Dr. Johnson -Abakwu spoke at Grand Rounds at noon, then joined a panel of local providers from the refugee-serving network sering central MA.  The planning committee selected one community organization and two students to receive awards, as summarized below. 

Thomas Zand Lectureship on Refugee Health: the planning committee selects a speaker relevant to the issues at hand in our community each year.  

Thomas Zand Refugee Health Community Award: refugee-serving organizations are polled annually and asked to identify a peer organization that best exempliies the annual theme.  The 2023 theme was Collaboration. The 2024 themes are Responsiveness and Learner Engagement.

Past awardees

Thomas Zand Lectureship on Refugee Health:

  • 2024: Marc Altshular MD
  • 2023:  Crista Johnson-Agbakwu MD

Thomas Zand Refugee Health Community Award

2023: WARM - Worcester Area Refugee Ministry

Thomas Zand Refugee Health Scholarship

2023: Ezdean Alkurdi MS2 and Priscilla Lee MS3