Student and Academic Life

Health Sciences Student Draws on Her Heritage to Pursue a Career Helping Those Facing Adversity

Parisa ShamaeiZadeh
UK College of Health Sciences student Parisa ShamaeiZadeh draws on her heritage to pursue health solutions in populations facing adversity.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 1, 2019) – Parisa ShamaeiZadeh, a human health sciences senior and University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences student ambassador, has seen firsthand how cultural differences can shape health care outcomes. Now, she wants to study how the intersection of cultural/community health with individual health can impact a variety of populations facing adverse circumstances.

“As an Iranian-American I grew up in two cultures. My parents divorced when I was young, so I was traversed the line between my mother’s Appalachian upbringing and my father’s Iranian heritage,” she said. “I began to grasp the concept of ‘culture’ as a child and it was an interesting course for me. I felt some of the issues that immigrant-raised children faced even though I was born and raised in the United States. Seeing the challenges my father experienced due to his immigrant status is what drove my passion to understand how culture affects health.”

According to ShamaeiZadeh, there are many barriers that can have dire health consequences for immigrants: lack of knowledge of a new country’s health care system, language difficulties (even with the presence of interpreters), financial barriers and cultural practices all play a part in how health care is accessed and delivered.

“As a practitioner, I want to use the unique knowledge of ‘community health’ and ‘individual health’ to impact populations experiencing adversity such as violence against women in South Africa, gun violence in Mexico, and women’s health concerns in Muslim-majority countries,” ShamaeiZadeh said. “When medical professionals better understand how cultural and environmental issues intersect with the identity of the patient, we can then provide better care.”

ShamaeiZadeh’s father experienced a stroke in 2014, which only furthered her interest in health care.

“My father was also a physician, yet he suffered a stroke and is now disabled for life,” she said. “It really struck me that we take our health for granted; we complain about getting up, getting out of bed, going to school, etc., but it’s something that not all of us can do.”

Her father’s stroke, and the fast-acting medical professionals who saved him, inspired ShamaeiZadeh to first forge a path in emergency medicine. However, a more solidified plan began to develop quickly within the walls of ShamaeiZadeh’s small-town high school.

“I knew I wanted to go to medical school, but I didn’t necessarily want to study biology,” she said. “I was more interested in the clinical side of medicine— working with the patients themselves — so I began searching for more holistic programs.”

The UK College of Health Sciences’ human health sciences program appeared to be the perfect fit for her with its emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and opportunities for undergraduate clinical experiences.

Around ShamaeiZadeh’s sophomore year, her pre-med plans began to shift. Instead of poring over med school applications, the now-senior fell in love with global health case competitions.

“They’re designed to mimic the work of a health professional attempting to combat a global health issue,” she said. “I loved everything about it.”

“I’m trying to merge the two worlds now,” she continued. “I’m applying for my master’s degree in national health and global health studies, and then I’m going to apply to medical school. Even though I’m not sure what my career will be, I’ll incorporate both of these fields into my life.”

ShamaeiZadeh encourages others to be more flexible when considering their future as well.

“When I started college, I said, ‘This is it, this is my plan, and I’m going to do it,’ and we’re so afraid of failure,” she said. “We don’t want to screw up our future. But if you have a crazy idea that might change your life for the better, than you should just do it. You just have to leave the fear behind and keep moving forward.”

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion two years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. The Chronicle of Higher Education judged us a “Great College to Work for," and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for three straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.