Called to Be: Access & Excellence

Title:Alumna’s heritage inspires career goals in medicine and education

Author: By Patti North
Date Published: June 1, 2022

Raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Arizona, Yasmin Zuch (NHS’20) was proud of her mother’s Navaho and Hopi heritage. When her mother took a teaching job at a reservation school, she and her brother also began attending school there. “It was two hours away,” Zuch recalls, “but the disparities I saw between my neighborhood and what I saw at school were very clear to me even at the age of seven.”

At the reservation, she had the opportunity to learn the Hopi language and participate in dances and cultural ceremonies. “After experiencing life on the reservation, it grew on me that I should be contributing to the health of a community that helped to raise me.”

She had never met a Native American physician, but she recalls non-Native American physicians visiting her schools and talking about opportunities in health care. “It inspired me to pursue medicine, and by the time I was a senior, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.”

Zuch applied to Georgetown to study human science and was awarded a prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship in the Native Health Care category. While on the Hilltop, she joined the leadership of the Native American Student Council. After graduation she worked with the National Indian Health Board as a public health intern.

After experiencing life on the reservation, it grew on me that I should be contributing to the health of a community that helped to raise me.

Entering the University of California at San Diego Medical School in fall 2021, she was selected for the school’s Program in Medical Education—Health Equity (PRIME-HEq), an MD/Master’s dual degree program that emphasizes health disparities education. Her education is funded by the Indian Health Service (IHS) Health Professions Scholarship designed to educate health professionals to staff Indian health programs.

“I’d like to teach health to high schoolers and inspire them to pursue STEM fields and medicine,” Zuch says. After residency, she will spend four years working in one of the Indian Health Service Units, perhaps focusing on maternal health research.

“Maternal mortality rates amongst Native Americans are some of the highest,” she observes.

She notes that COVID-19 vaccination rates among Native Americans are high, thanks to public health education efforts. “Tribal nations did a good job disseminating information and conveying the message that vaccination allows us to protect our elders, an ethos which is deeply ingrained in Native Americans. It was a model that I wish the rest of the country had followed,” she says, “and it confirmed for me that health care education is paramount.”

grphic with a kid and grandma, houses and u street sign

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that health is local—and extremely personal. As the pandemic soared across the country, so raged nationwide debates on mask requirements, vaccine mandates, and…

Roberta Waite

On July 1, Dr. Roberta Waite will begin service as dean of the newly reconceptualized and standalone Georgetown University School of Nursing—one that continues a nearly 120-year history of nursing…

Mutsa Nyakabau

“With fewer resources you have to be creative as the provider in how you’re able to advocate and facilitate care for your…