Saffanat Sumra, Health + Tech ’23 (Molecular and Cell Biology): “I hope to make (others) recognize their strengths and believe in their abilities, even if things may seem impossible.”

Looking to make a tangible impact on the healthcare system, Saffanat Sumra became a Fung Fellow last year on the Health + Tech track. As a Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) major, Saffanat plans on applying to medical school and ultimately wants to pursue some combination of pediatric and surgical medicine with an emphasis on community health. If UC Berkeley has taught her anything, it’s that you never know what might pique your interest. Subsequently, the world is hers to explore, and the Fung Fellowship is the first step in that exploration.

Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?

My name is Saffanat, but I also go by Saffy! I am a rising 4th year at UC Berkeley, majoring in MCB and minoring in Education. I currently live in Pomona, CA, but I was born and raised in Mumbai, India, where I lived for 14 years before immigrating to the United States with my family.

At UC Berkeley, I’m a peer advisor for the College of Letters & Science as well as the School of Education, and I am also the project coordinator for the Patient Support Corps, which is a patient advocacy organization at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

Why did you choose to study MCB and Education?

I primarily chose MCB because as a freshman I was interested in pathogens and disease and all things bacteria/viruses. Being at UC Berkeley, however, I’ve been intrigued by the breadth of ideas also discussed in my Education and Philosophy classes. So, while I do still love molecular biology, if I could go back in time I would probably pick a more interdisciplinary major like Interdisciplinary Studies Field (ISF) through which I could concentrate on a wide range of disciplines including immunology, education, and philosophy.

As an Education minor, I’ve not only been able to acquire qualitative research skills but I’ve also applied these skills in designing lesson plans for students of varying age groups through my Education practicum courses. I believe my overall academic interests are maintained in this equilibrium of MCB + Education.

What led you to apply and join the Fung Fellowship?

Being able to make a tangible impact in the field of healthcare, as a pre-medical student, is one of the main reasons I joined the Fung Fellowship.

Being able to make a tangible impact in the field of healthcare, as a pre-medical student, is one of the main reasons I joined the Fung Fellowship. The strength of the fellowship community lies in its inclusive and diverse culture that involves students from so many majors, backgrounds, and interests, and I feel grateful to be part of such a community.

As Fung Fellows, my team and I were partnered with the University Health Services, and we designed a Worker Needs Assessment Tool to pilot the CDC’s Total Worker Health model at UC Berkeley (Read more about our prototypes on our project website). The main goal of our project was to design a tool that is accessible (paper-based and available in different languages) and helps us identify and address worker health and safety on campus.

What work have you done with UCSF Health?

I am specifically coordinating projects in the Office of Population Health & Accountable Care (OPHAC). This office relies on using preventative care through telehealth to bridge gaps in patients’ health. For instance, one of the projects I work on is Behavioral Health Navigation, where I serve as a Patient Navigator to discuss therapy and psychiatry resources with patients and escalate any concerns they have to their primary care providers.

As the project coordinator, I act as a liaison between our clinical site partners at OPHAC and the interns. Specifically, I work with a team of ~30 UC Berkeley interns and four interns from the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) to develop trainings, troubleshoot tech issues, review any exceptional cases, and outline schedules. I am currently working with the director of the program, Dr. Jeff Belkora, to recruit more students from underrepresented backgrounds, and we recently posted our updated project description on Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) for those interested in joining us!

Another major project is the COVID Hotline, where my fellow interns and I work with the UCSF nurses and schedulers to triage patients for COVID symptoms or any related concerns.

Is there something you are currently working on/interested in that you would like to share?

As someone who has been a Peer Advisor with the College of Letters & Science for almost three years, I am currently integrating the human-centered design skills I acquired in the fellowship with my advising experience to co-design a new peer advising program for the Education minor. The advising program is set to begin this Spring.

Being part of a group of students who are often the link between the college advisors and the larger student body, I hope to work towards making advising services more accessible for students who may not be able to find appointments or time outside of their schedules to speak with an advisor.

What are some of your non-academic passions?

I enjoy singing and making song covers; In the past, I would post these on SoundCloud but now it’s just singing for relaxation after grueling midterms or finals.

I also volunteer with a non-profit organization, The Unconscious Bias Project, which helps me explore my creative persona through my work within the social media team.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

It would be the kind of impact that my parents and grandparents have had on me — one that makes me feel loved, cared for, and valued as a human being.

Saffanat with her mom and dad.

It would be the kind of impact that my parents and grandparents have had on me — one that makes me feel loved, cared for, and valued as a human being. If I am able to contribute to one person’s life or any part of their journey, I hope to make them recognize their strengths and believe in their abilities, even if things may seem impossible for them at the moment. This is easier said than done, so I hope and look forward to the point at which these words take some shape/form in the near future.

Favorite quote:

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?

— Stoic Philosopher Epictetus

Connect with Saffanat Sumra.

Edited by Veronica Roseborough.

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Fung Fellowship

Fung Fellowship

The Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley is shaping the next generation of health, conservation, and technology leaders for a better world. 🌱