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Abandoned at birth, medical student fights for reproductive justice

Third-year medical student Jennifer Marino was abandoned at birth, left in a basket on a doorstep in Newton under a porch light. She was rescued by a woman retrieving her newspaper on that cold October morning. Police named her “Baby Julia” and brought her to Newton-Wellesley Hospital where Susan and Frank Marino, who had been waiting on state adoption lists for years, came to adopt her.

Marino’s start in life fuels her passion for studying social determinants of health in the T.H. Chan School of Medicine and for advocating for reproductive justice.

“At 16, my birth mother found herself pregnant,” said Marino. “Had her mother found out, she said she would’ve been kicked out indefinitely, pregnant and alone. It’s easy to blame people for their difficult choices, but I’ve never held an ounce of malice toward her.”

Marino said she was named by her parents and older brother, Tony, who, “started running through the alphabet on the ride to get me and agreed on the name Jennifer minutes before picking me up.”

In order to identify her birth parents, Marino hired private investigators in 2020. Through genetic testing kits and outreach to first-cousin connections, she discovered that her birth mother lived only 20 minutes from her hometown of Marlborough. The two met in-person the following year at a local park and chatted for hours and they still catch up every now and then through texts. The experience has given Marino insight into why she wants her patients to have choices.

A UMass Amherst graduate with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a certificate in medical Spanish, Marino is a former co-leader of Medical Students for Choice at UMass Chan, a branch of an international organization focused on providing medical students with family planning and reproductive education. She has served as one of the Massachusetts Area Health Education Center Network Rural Health Scholars co-leaders, focused on providing health care to small towns and rural areas. In her free time, she prioritizes staying active and “escaping screens,” having just hiked 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia on a solo backpacking trip.

Long term, Marino is leaning toward choosing family medicine as her specialty because of her desire to provide longitudinal care where she can “deliver grandchildren and take care of the grandparent.” She is also interested in food security since volunteering at a local soup kitchen as a child.

“Food truly is medicine,” Marino said. “It’s easy to tell a patient who might have high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes to eat better. But what does that look like in their culture? Do they have a grocery store in their neighborhood? Do they have access to transportation? If you’re able to address that, you’re able to help your patients in a more in-depth way.”

Listen to our Voices of UMass Chan podcast to hear the full interview with Marino.

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.