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Second-year med student Angela Essa studying diet and hypertension in pregnant women

Clinical and Translational Research Pathway program prepares students to understand disease and treat patients

Understanding, treating and preventing disease has interested Angela Essa for years. She was intrigued by human anatomy and physiology classes from high school through her undergraduate years at UMass Amherst. She got involved in laboratory research early on, participating in honors-level programs that placed her in engaging, hands-on projects.

“I’ve always been really curious about medicine and the biology of disease and how we treat it,” said Essa. “That was something I tried to explore as much as possible. I really enjoy thinking about ways to solve different global programs from an interdisciplinary standpoint.”

This passion drove the Southampton, Mass., native to continue her education at UMass Medical School. She’s enrolled in the Clinical and Translational Research Pathway (CTRP) program in which students participate in full-time research for eight weeks after the first year. Her study focuses on providers’ perspectives of dietary counseling in women with hypertensive disorders during pregnancy.

“The goal of this study is to assess the viewpoints of providers on the importance of, and barriers faced in providing diet counseling to pregnant women with hypertension. I’m also looking at referral patterns in these populations to dieticians and nutritionists,” Essa said. She is working with principal investigator Lara Kovell, MD, assistant professor of medicine. “Additionally, I’ve assisted with a study in which markers of cardiac strain were measured during pregnancy and at delivery, analyzing pregnant women with and without hypertension.”

Essa has immersed herself in research opportunities. Prior to medical school, she was a clinical research coordinator in the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, a research assistant at the Breast Milk and Breast Cancer Research Laboratory at UMass Amherst, and an intern at the Translational Biomarkers Unit at Merck Research Laboratories in Boston.

Discovering the intersection of her interests—blending diet and exercise and understanding how that can influence disease risk, while incorporating women’s health—has helped Essa focus on a career path. “In the future, I hope to potentially go into an OB/GYN career,” she said.

Essa is involved in the Cardiac Health Outreach Program at UMMS, helping spread the word about hands-only CPR and heart disease prevention within the Worcester community, particularly in underserved populations. She also serves as a representative on the Capstone Student Committee, providing faculty members with essential feedback on the Capstone program.

When COVID-19 began to spread in Massachusetts, she volunteered at the Worcester Free Care Collaborative, virtually consulting with patients in the area who are seeking aid from the no-cost medical program.

“Working at the free clinics was a great way to improve my interviewing skills, so that’s something I’m really grateful for,” she said.

Essa hopes to stay in Massachusetts for not just her residency, but ultimately the remainder of her career.

“I felt like attending UMMS was the best way to make that dream come true,” she said. “Not only can I give back to the community during medical school, but I also feel prepared to continue serving my community afterwards.”

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, visit the Prospective Students page.

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