Helping the Socially Disadvantaged

Diabetes screening
(Matt Chesin/Unsplash)

Helping the Socially Disadvantaged

Undergraduate Rishi Sharma makes the most of Strauss Scholarship

Rishi Sharma’s passion for community service can be traced back to his parents. While growing up in Dubai, Sharma watched his parents, who are both doctors, hone their expertise in the medical field. According to Sharma, as his parents advanced in their careers, they never forgot about the people around them.

“As they moved up the ladder, they used more of their experience to invest in the community,” said Sharma, a biochemistry and molecular biology major in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences. 

From his parent’s example, Sharma learned the value of leveraging science to help the community. Today, he’s tapping into his growing endocrinological expertise to expand the services of the Imani Clinic, a UC Davis student-run organization that serves the socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood of Oak Park in Sacramento. Thanks to a $15,000 award from the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation, Sharma will launch an endocrine clinic that operates within the Imani Clinic.

Rishi Sharma
Rishi Sharma

“From Imani’s board members, I learned more about the healthcare issues that Oak Park battles and how they link to its status as a historically redlined neighborhood,” explained Sharma. “America’s largest healthcare challenges, such as type 2 diabetes, are disproportionally prevalent in Black, Hispanic and Indigenous populations.”

In the lab of Associate Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology John Albeck, Sharma studies the various signaling pathways that play a role in diabetes and cancer. He’s applying this hands-on research experience to his work with the Imani Clinic.

“The planning for this project revolves around creating a sustainable specialty clinic that will address the community’s diabetes needs for years to come,” said Sharma. “I also have a secondary goal of exposing physicians, physician assistants, medical students and undergraduate volunteers to the challenges of providing culturally and racially sensitive diabetes care, as that is an element that is sorely missing from American medical and health professional education.”  

Sharma is devising ways to connect Imani Clinic patients to nutritious food sources and exercise programs. Part of that effort will include assisting with CalFresh signups in the Oak Park neighborhood and conducting outreach events to raise awareness of Imani’s burgeoning endocrine clinic.

“I think a lot of patients find that hard, especially when they live in zip codes where nutritious food is not readily available,” said Sharma.

Sharma’s devotion to community service isn’t solely driven by his upbringing. When he moved to the United States to attend UC Davis, he quickly noticed the racial disparities in the communities around him.

“I had a very romanticized version of what an American reality would look like,” he said. “When I got here, the problems with America started becoming more apparent to me.”

The killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, spurred Sharma to action. That following summer, he joined the Imani Clinic with the hope of leveraging his scientific knowledge to help an underserved community. The funds he won from the Strauss Foundation will help make his hopes a reality.

“This project means a lot to me,” said Sharma. “It’s something that I’ll be working on for the remainder of my time as an undergrad.”

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