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MD/PhD student aims to prevent disease through community-based nutrition policy

Claire Branley summarized local testimonies for the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

Claire Branley is at home among the tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash. The MD/PhD student started gardening with her mother, Johanna Munson, when she was growing up in Seattle. Branley was an intern at the University of Washington farm, which provided produce for the campus food panty, while studying public health. When she learned UMass Chan Medical School has a community garden, she jumped at the chance to get involved.

“Gardening makes me really happy and it's a great way to connect with the community,” said Branley, a student in the Global Health Pathway in the T.H. Chan School of Medicine and the Clinical and Population Health Research program in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “I think that community gardens are a really important way that people can come together and learn about nutrition, learn how to feed themselves and what makes a healthy diet.”

Branley has spent the past year working with Stephenie P. Lemon, PhD, the Marcellette G. Williams Scholar, professor of population & quantitative health sciences and co-director of the Prevention Research Center at UMass Chan Medical School. Branley compiled findings from people with lived experience of food insecurity who provided input during listening sessions held in preparation for September’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. She plans to focus on a community-based nutrition policy in her dissertation.

“I wanted to do medicine, but I was also really passionate about preventing disease, particularly chronic disease like heart disease and diabetes, which afflicts my family and millions of other families in the United States,” Branley said.

As youth group coordinator for the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, Branley pairs UMass Chan student mentors with Afghan refugee youth, providing them with social support and preparing them for college. Branley is also the primary clinic coordinator for the Akwaaba Free Health Program, part of the Worcester Free Care Collaborative.

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 UMass Chan News:
Local residents make recommendations for White House conference on hunger
UMass Chan Community Garden hitting food insecurity at home head-on