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Inspired by care cousin received for rare genetic disorder, Ryan Barrette wants to give back

Fourth-year medical student pursuing neurology; started student food pantry at UMass Chan

Born and raised on Cape Cod, Ryan Barrette knew he would have a future in medicine after witnessing the care given to his cousin, Terence McMahon, who was born with a rare genetic disorder called DiGeorge syndrome. Watching him work with specialists, undergo surgeries and manage routine doctor’s visits, Barrette was inspired to someday give that same care to others.

“Seeing the medical world through his perspective and his journey, going from an acutely ill infant with low chances of a long life, now to a man in his mid-20s, is just remarkable,” he said. “I think about those doctors and medical professionals who allowed him to follow his passions and give him a better life. Now I’m applying into neurology and I think observing Terence deal with epilepsy and stroke in his life definitely inspired me to head in this direction.”

“In the medical practice, you see how diseases can really impact someone's function, but with great care, you can overcome those challenges, live life and live it greatly.”

Now in his fourth and final year of medical school, Barrette is preparing to graduate and to match into a neurology residency. That will require a year of internal medicine training followed by three years of neurology training. Barrette is wrapping up clinical rotations as well as his capstone project, which involved the launch of the Max Baker Resource Center on campus. It is a student-led pantry for UMMS students to address both food and resource insecurity.

“There are huge challenges with students other than the cost of higher education, such as meeting basic needs of housing, food, clothing and more. I collaborated with UMMS and local community partners, including the Student Government Association, to establish this resource for graduate student survival,” Barrette said.

He serves as a representative on the Student Body Committee and served as its co-president from 2018 to 2019. This opportunity allowed him to facilitate communication between students and faculty, plan events such as a class show and advocate for the needs of the student population.

“I think what’s always excited me is the teamwork,” Barrette said. “When a student from any of our three schools would come to us with an exciting idea, wondering how to get it off the ground, we would be able to connect them to other organizations or administrators and watch it flourish. Everyone is so passionate about interdisciplinary and interprofessional work, which is something UMMS is strong at encouraging.”

He also played a role in the June 5 demonstration on campus in which hundreds of students, staff and health care workers gathered to stand in solidarity after the death of George Floyd. The event was organized by the local chapters of White Coats for Black Lives and Student National Medical Association and Barrette helped bring together virtual participants for an inclusive experience.

“I floated the idea of allowing people to join in from a remote setting and partake in the support from afar. I was on Zoom during the event and helped organize which individuals would be able to stream it live from the green. It was a very powerful moment and I’m just glad that we were able to support people who are doing the groundwork in diversity and health care justice, and to just allow our community to connect in a really difficult time,” he said.

The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Medical School and how to apply, please visit the Prospective Students page.