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Walking with purpose: UMass Chan medical students, faculty volunteer for Walk with a Doc

Goal of monthly event is to engage seniors, support health of underrepresented communities in Worcester

Michael Hirsh, MD, walks with community members Aug. 4 at Elm Park in Worcester.
Michael Hirsh, MD, walks with community members Aug. 4 at Elm Park in Worcester.

Doctors and medical students from UMass Chan Medical School have been meeting one Saturday a month since January to walk with Worcester residents, encouraging exercise, building trust in the health care profession and offering free medical advice on topics such as mosquito and tick bite prevention, and upcoming vaccine recommendations.

Walk with a Doc was established in 2005 in Ohio by cardiologist David Sabgir, MD, and has spread to hundreds of communities in the U.S., including Worcester.

Fourth-year medical student Michelle Chang, a member of UMass Chan’s chapters of the Student National Medical Association and the Gold Humanism Honor Society, secured funding for Walk with a Doc through the American Association of Retired Persons until December 2024. Chang is a first-generation Asian American student who chose to become a doctor after witnessing her family’s health care struggles.

“As a result of my family’s difficulties accessing medical care, I became interested in medical advocacy and caring for underserved communities,” Chang said. “Through Walk with a Doc, I saw an opportunity to improve the wellbeing of others through continuous learning, effective communication and staying curious about medicine and my patients’ lives.”

While UMass Chan physicians and students have volunteered at Walk with a Doc in past years, this iteration aims to help the health of underrepresented populations in Worcester. Michael Hirsh, MD, professor of surgery and pediatrics and assistant vice provost for wellness and health promotion at UMass Chan Medical School, serves as Walk with a Doc’s physician facilitator and often hosts topical public health conversations. Dr. Hirsh is also medical director of public health for the Worcester Department of Health and Human Services.

“If there’s a particular public health challenge, we discuss it,” shared Hirsh. “Last month, we were talking about the dangers of wildfire smoke and how you have to be careful if you have respiratory ailments—not to overdo it outside. We offered masks that month and a lot of our walkers wore them while they walked.”

Walk with a Doc participants receive AARP-branded water bottles and literature about the importance of staying active. Hirsh said Walk with a Doc has been tackling health issues in the community with an unexpected side effect: combatting loneliness.

“Look, I’m a senior myself!” he said. “Because I’m plugged into the medical community, I don’t feel isolated or unaware of what’s happening in medicine. These folks coming out of the pandemic were vigilant about their health and most had been quarantining for three years. Getting together and moving makes them feel great. They’re getting things done and setting an example for the community to join and learn more about their own health.”

Hirsh hopes Walk with a Doc will continue long after funding subsides.

“Walk with a Doc doesn’t require a lot of dollars,” said Hirsh. “All you need for a Walk with a Doc is a doc, a group of seniors and an indoor track when it’s cold or rainy. I feel positive this could continue.”

Walk with a Doc happens on the first Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. at Elm Park in Worcester. On rainy days, the walk takes place inside St. Vincent Hospital. The next Walk with a Doc is set for Sept. 2.

Students and physicians interested in getting involved in Walk with a Doc should reach out to Michelle Chang via email at