Unlike most pre-med students, Hussna Yasini didn’t major in biology. Instead, the Colorado native majored in Spanish with a mathematics minor. Why? “Because I want to be able to connect with my future patients using their native tongue,” she said.
Effective communication is particularly important to Yasini because she is the child of Afghan refugees. “In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, which caused my mom to grow up in a war zone,” she said. “When the beautiful country she once knew was ripped to shreds, bombed beyond oblivion, and torn apart by years of war, she decided to move to the United States.”
BA/BS-MD Program Supports Diverse PCPs
Yasini prioritized her education, because she could. “I am an Afghan-American woman who has had the opportunity to pursue higher education—a privilege many Afghan women have been denied,” she said. Yasini is one of 10 undergraduate students admitted into the eight-year BA/BS-MD Program at the University of Colorado Denver, a partnership between CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University of Colorado School of Medicine (SOM).
The goal of the program is to attract diverse students who plan to become primary care physicians (PCP) in order to serve the healthcare needs of Colorado. “Coming from an Afghan community that is poorly educated with respect to health, especially women’s health, I am deeply committed to expanding my knowledge of the determinants of disease,” Yasini explained.
Majoring in Spanish for Latinx Patients
Given Colorado’s large Latinx population, Yasini chose to major in Spanish. Her mathematics minor was intended to help her conduct medical research in underserved communities—something she has been doing throughout her undergraduate studies. Besides volunteering at St. Anthony’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado, Yasini traveled to Bolivia in 2019 as part of the BA/BS-MD program in order to investigate the impact of altitude on maternal and fetal health. “I joined a research project with SOM doctors and Bolivian physicians to recruit patients, collect blood and placental samples, and perform data analyses,” she said.
In addition to giving Yasini the opportunity to practice her Spanish, participating in the Bolivian medical study strengthened her desire to focus on healthcare equity. “This experience allowed me to learn about different beliefs relating to health and disease in Bolivia and reflect upon my own experiences within the Afghan community,” she said. “Understanding the role of diverse cultural beliefs on health is what drives my interest in medicine.”
Culturally Sensitive Health Care
On her way to earning her BA, Yasini enjoyed being involved in the Pre-Health Living Learning Community. Her group completed a year-long service project through Girls Incorporated of Metro Denver. “I volunteered to help with seminars and workshops related to reproductive health,” she said. She continued volunteering for Girls Inc. and has helped young women with STEM education, job interview readiness, and college life skills—”topics that my parents were not able to teach me.”
Yasini will begin her medical studies this summer at the Anschutz campus. Although she is young, she has mature views about providing empathetic care. “Life’s circumstances, the languages we speak, and cultural and religious backgrounds shape who we are and determine our health outcomes,” she said. “This needs to be understood by physicians in order to effectively provide treatment.”