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With a focus on human rights, medical student aims to give voice to unseen, unheard

Sabahat Rahman came to UMass Medical School to work with refugee and asylum-seeking populations

Sabahat Rahman didn’t know the word for inequity when she was growing up, splitting time with her mom in California and her dad in Bangladesh, but she knew what it looked like.

“It just did not sit well with me that depending on what situation they were born into, people had very different paths for their lives,” Rahman said.

After earning bachelor’s degrees in public health and neurobiology from University of California Berkeley and a master’s degree in global health sciences from University of California San Francisco, Rahman chose UMass Medical School to pursue medicine. She said she was seeking an institution that prioritized primary care and community health. When she learned Worcester had the highest resettlement rate of refugee populations in the state, according to a 2015 report, the choice was clear.

“I didn’t have the perspective of what the complications that come with resettlement look like,” Rahman recalled. “I got really excited about the idea of coming here and being to be able to learn about that in a place where that population is so well represented.”

Rahman’s extracurricular activities illuminate her passion for global health. She helped set up and transitioned the student-run Worcester Asylum Clinic to a telehealth platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rahman and other members of the Health Professionals for Human Rights, a student group affiliated with the national Physicians for Human Rights, applied for and received a 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service Award to develop an in-house pool of interpreters for the clinic.

Through the Global Health Pathway, an elective, four-year program that provides medical students opportunities to gain experience in clinical, research, public health and cultural experiences with populations living outside the United States as well as immigrant and refugee populations, Rahman has an apprenticeship with JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Working remotely from Worcester, she’s identifying techniques to assess children under 5 with acute febrile illness in resource-strained laboratory settings.

Rahman is in the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health (PURCH) Track, which focuses on population health, health care disparities and health issues specific to urban and rural communities.

“When I’m a practicing physician, I'm going to remember the community member who told me about the specific moment that they felt unseen, unheard and invalidated, which really affected their lifelong relationship with health care. That’s what I love about what I've been able to experience in PURCH,” Rahman said.

Rahman said she likes to be busy. She recalled a time when she decided to take a volunteer slot the Sunday before a big exam.

“I had the most cathartic, reorienting, grounding experience. When I walked out of there, I felt even more motivated to succeed,” she said.

As Rahman starts her third year of medical school, she’s keeping her options open.

“As long as I’m in some sort of intersection of health care and human rights, I will feel like I’m in the right place,” Rahman 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, visit the Prospective Students page.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
UMMS students receive Mick Huppert Community Health Scholar Awards to address community health
UMass Medical School community pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. with celebration of service
2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service awardees will address local health needs