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BaccMD graduate wants to serve marginalized populations, expand access to health care

Undergraduate pathway program gave second-year medical student access to role models

Kassandra Jean-Marie, a second-year medical student whose journey to becoming a physician has twice taken her through UMass Chan Medical School’s corridors, has wanted to be a doctor from a young age. Her reasons, though, have changed over the years, shaped by her parents’ experiences and her own observations. Jean-Marie was born in Boston; her parents were born in Haiti.

“I’m really passionate about individuals who do not have access to health care, or their access to health care is very limited or segmented,” Jean-Marie said. “I’m thinking about members of my family. The only time they got a physical is when they absolutely had to for a new job. And then they ended up having to pay out of pocket because they didn’t have health insurance.”

This passion drew Jean-Marie to the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health (PURCH) track, an option for T.H. Chan School of Medicine students that focuses on health care disparities and health issues specific to urban and rural communities.

“We get information on how to serve marginalized individuals in the best way possible, knowing that the health care system hasn’t always been kind to them,” Jean-Marie said. “How do you provide access to health care for individuals who may not want to go to a hospital because they’re scared—if they don’t have papers or they don’t have their green card—that they’re going to get deported? These individuals obviously still deserve and need health care, so what can we do to help them?”

Following the Aug. 14 earthquake in Haiti, Jean-Marie organized a drive to collect bandages, soap, hand sanitizer and other supplies. In September, she was named to Springfield’s COVID-19 Youth Council, where she’s tasked with providing information and education on the COVID-19 vaccine to residents 35 and under. She volunteers in the student-run Worcester Asylum Clinic and at Lawrence General Hospital. She’s also a member of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), a national organization that supports underrepresented minority medical students. She’s been a part of SNMA since she was a student at UMass Amherst, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in microbiology and public health. Having earned her certification at the age of 17, Jean-Marie worked as a certified nursing assistant through college.

During the summers after her sophomore and junior years, Jean-Marie completed the UMass Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program. The BaccMD program is open to students at the undergraduate UMass campuses who are from racial or ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine, who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or who are first-generation college graduates.

As for what comes after medical school, Jean-Marie is interested in infectious diseases and working in a community health setting with refugees, people who are seeking asylum, and immigrants who are first- and second-generation Americans. Or maybe she’ll end up working in primary care, perhaps in Haiti or another developing country.

“When we’re talking about a lot of debilitating conditions, we talk about how there is a lack of primary care in a lot of these areas. These diseases, eventually, they’re kind of untreatable. We can provide medication and sometimes do procedures, but the disease itself never goes away. And that’s sometimes because it’s caught way too late. So primary care, I think, is just extremely important,” Jean-Marie said.

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

Related stories on UMassMed News:
NBC10-Boston report highlights UMass BaccMD program’s role in reducing health disparities
Summer Enrichment Program preps aspiring undergraduates with a dose of medical school rigor