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Aspiring dermatologist creates career exposure program for students in Worcester

As a first-generation college student who immigrated to the U.S. from China at age 8, second-year medical student Yuying Zhang has made advocating for diverse populations her mission. Zhang established a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) guidance program when she was a student at North Quincy High School and recently created a pipeline program in Worcester to diversify future dermatology applicant pools. 

Zhang saw how a language barrier made it difficult for her family to access health care, but said she didn't truly understand health disparities until she joined the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in high school and spent time in homeless shelters, food pantries and correctional centers. She also worked with a college advisor at her high school to help provide FAFSA assistance for first-generation students.  

Zhang studied chemistry at UMass Amherst and applied to the T.H. Chan School of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School after participating in the Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program, which aims to develop a pool of diverse students aspiring to careers in health care. As a member of the BaccMD leadership board, she helps students prepare for the medical school application process.  

“I’m very fortunate to have parents who emphasize the importance of going to school and pursuing education, but some students don't have that,” said Zhang. “Having that reminder or support through early exposure is helpful.”  

Zhang was inspired to invent ways to bringing more diversity to the dermatology field after working as a medical assistant at a dermatology clinic. 

Theres a lack of representation in the field and a lack of mentorship and recruitment because of that,” Zhang said. “What's interesting about dermatology is that the same skin condition can look different depending on skin color—that constant learning is something that drives me. 

Zhang participated in a research fellowship at the University of California San Francisco, and after speaking with doctors who had launched pipeline programs, she worked with the UMass Chan Department of Dermatology to help establish a diversity pipeline program for dermatology in Worcester. She said the goal of the program is to expose and educate students of all ages to careers in medicine. She is collaborating with community coordinators at two Seven Hills Foundation programs, Bruce Wells Scholars Upward Bound and Dynamy John S. Laws Academy, that support students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds. A career fair and panel presentations at Worcester high schools are planned.  

Zhang and other program volunteers have connected with the undergraduate UMass campuses about assisting students interested in medicine with the med school application process. They have also scheduled panels with three medical schools that do not offer dermatology programs. 

Zhang has worked closely with Jillian Richmond, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology; Nikki Levin, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology; and Vijaya Daniel, MD, a micrographic surgery and dermatologic oncology fellow at UMass Chan. 

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.