Kassandra Jean-Marie has always wanted to be a doctor, but she says the reason has changed.
"I'm smiling because my answer to that question has changed so many times throughout my years," she said.
Jean-Marie's mom is a nurse, and that inspired her.
"She always came home and I could definitely see she was tired some nights, but she spent her days doing something that she loved," she said.
That love of medicine has turned into something so much more. Both of Jean-Marie's parents are from Haiti, and she says her family came to this country with very little.
"A lot of people in my family are struggling with these debilitating conditions that, in modern-day science, we can take care of, simply just because they don't have access to health care," said Jean-Marie.
The racial disparities in the health care system became increasingly clear to Jean-Marie. It's why she enrolled in the UMass Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program, or BaccMD for short.
"If you don't have doctors that reflect our population, it can be kind of hard for our patients to trust us," said Jean-Marie.
Black History Month
Students from racial or ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine can enroll in the program, which will put them on a path to medical school.
"The goal of the program is to really lower the health disparities that exist in our community by creating a diverse pool of students," said Paul Charles, the program director of the BaccMD Pathway Program.
Since 2013, the program has accepted 12 students per year. This year, they expanded it to 15, with a goal of 20.
"Having representation is very important for patients," said Charles.
According to the most recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 5% of all physicians are Black. Compare that to 56% who are white.
"Starting the program, I was astounded just being in a room of students that look like me," said Jean-Marie. "That was the first time that I've ever experienced that."
And that's the reason the Pathway Program is so important.
For Jean-Marie, who is now in her first year at UMass Medical School, she has a message for younger students thinking about a career in medicine.
"I would tell those kids to definitely apply to the BaccMD program," she said. "I never want to lose sight of the real reason why I'm here — it is to help individuals from marginalized, disadvantaged, people of color, indigenous people, receive health care, because I think it's a right, not necessarily a privilege."
Jean-Marie said she hopes to work with immigrants as an infectious disease doctor.
If you would like to apply to the BaccMD Pathway Program this, you can do so here until Feb. 8.