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Medical students named inaugural Mick Huppert Community Health Scholars

Divya Bhatia, Emily Nuss and Vanessa Villamarin will address infant safety and refugee health

From left, Divya Bhatia, Emily Nuss and Vanessa
Villamarin are the inaugural recipients of the
Mick Huppert Community Health Scholar Awards.

Third-year medical students Divya Bhatia, Emily Nuss and Vanessa Villamarin are conducting local public health projects as the first recipients of the Mick Huppert Community Health Scholar Awards. The awards have been established by the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health at UMass Medical School to honor the memory of the late faculty member Michael Huppert, MPH, and his commitment to improving community health.

Villamarin and Nuss will support the Worcester Baby Box Project of the Worcester Healthy Baby Collaborative with faculty advisor Sara Shields, MD, professor of family medicine & community health. The initiative provides a box about the size of a bassinette with a suitable mattress for newborns, in hopes of discouraging co-sleeping with parents, which has been associated with infant deaths. Boxes also include baby clothing, supplies and multilingual educational materials, all intended to further ensure the baby’s health.

“One of our biggest drives for applying for the award is that you can be an advocate for your patients,” said Villamarin. “Being an advocate for patients and serving underserved patients was Mick Huppert’s life work.”

Nuss, who is interested in incorporating community health in her future work as a doctor, said, “This grant gives me the opportunity to do that early in my career.”

Bhatia will establish a student-run asylum health clinic with faculty advisors Lucy Candib, MD, professor of family medicine & community health, and former department fellow Satu Salonen, MD, MPH, who lectures on refugee health at UMMS and practices at Worcester Family Health Center with Dr. Candib.

Bhatia studied international relations before medical school and would like to make global health a big part of her career in the future. “I think often we forget that there are many international human rights violations happening right here in Worcester,” she said. “I applied for the Mick Huppert Award to develop an asylum clinic at UMMS as a sustainable strategy to make free medical and mental health asylum evaluations more available and accessible locally. This clinic will improve asylum seekers’ chances of being granted asylum.”

Huppert, a UMMS faculty member who died in 2017, left a legacy of community health improvement initiatives. He had an unwavering passion for addressing community health needs and for passing this passion along to students and colleagues.

The competitive awards of up to $2,500 each will be made annually to two applicants interested in family medicine who have demonstrated a commitment to community engaged service-learning and scholarship. The awards will support awardees’ proposed community health projects with a faculty member to mentor and provide guidance for the work.

The selection committee for the awards includes members of Huppert’s family as well as UMMS faculty.

“These awards reflect Mick's passion for access to high quality medical care for the underserved, regardless of income, race, gender, age, class or location,” wrote wife Louse Dwyer Huppert and daughters Annie Huppert and Caitie Dwyer-Huppert. “We are so proud that his legacy shines through in the vision and action of these student awardees. As Mick would say, ‘Fire up!’"