Graduate student Jazmine Richardson aims to address health inequities and become a ‘transformative leader with heart’
Jazmine Richardson, EG23, EG24, could have spent a gap year after graduation from Syracuse University in 2022 prepping for medical school.
Instead, she chose a pathway at Tufts that integrates her passions for health policy, research, finance, and entrepreneurship. The two-year Master’s of Science in Innovation & Management graduate program with Tufts Gordon Institute is preparing her to become the kind of doctor she wants to be and tackle the health disparities faced by communities of color.
“What was always most important for me was to understand the larger context of medicine: How does the health care system operate outside of the hospital?” she says.
That breadth of perspective also carries over to questions about lab research priorities and applications to real-world problems. “When it came to research design and posing questions, I often asked, ‘What voices are not being heard? Who or what else are we not considering?’” she says.
“As I envisioned my career, I knew that the scientific perspective—how engineering and scientific discoveries play a part in health care—would continue to be important,” she says. And learning how to include people whose experiences are often overlooked “would better position me when it comes to providing care for my future patients.”
Through her studies in the dual degree program at Tufts Gordon Institute at the School of Engineering, Richardson aims to grow into the leader she believes health care needs. The program couples the Master’s of Science in Innovation & Management (MSIM) degree, which Richardson completed in the spring, with another master’s degree from one of the other six departments of the School of Engineering. Richardson is on track to earn a master’s in biomedical engineering in May.
“Our program is a unique opportunity for students with a breadth of interests and talents,” said Kevin Oye, E79, executive director of Tufts Gordon Institute and a professor of the practice in business strategy and innovation. “Whether they are interested in bioengineering, data or computer science, or any number of combinations, our dual degree master’s program is a perfect fit. It allows them to earn both degrees in an accelerated time frame and at a reduced cost, and it opens doors to diverse careers where students can combine leadership, innovation, and management skills in new and exciting ways.”
For Richardson, the program’s goal to develop “transformational leaders with heart” resonates deeply.
“That’s exactly what I want to be,” she says. “I want to become a physician-scientist-entrepreneur—all those things to me revolve on being a leader.”
Medical school, she says “will happen,” but first, she’s honing skills that will help her embody her values. “It has always been important to keep social impact as my guide.”
The Intersection of Innovation
and Health Systems
In her quest to make change as a future physician, scientist, entrepreneur, and advocate, Richardson and fellow MSIM graduate students participate in Innovation Sprints, which challenge them to come up with novel solutions to problems in a short period of time.
Richardson’s first Sprint project last fall was an app her team called Amoova. The platform sought to provide tracking, planning, and community tools to give both emotional support and a sense of control to aspiring parents dealing with infertility challenges.
“Existing methods for support, such as therapy and support groups, were not always easily accessible or approachable for those who feel isolated and lost in their journeys,” she says. “We need to consider people’s perspectives culturally, ethnically, and where they’re coming from, even socioeconomically. We need to understand what their barriers are.”
Second semester, Richardson’s team put forward another idea: a health monitoring device they called JEHM Tech, shorthand for Just and Equitable Health Monitoring Technologies. The proposed device, based on technology developed by Valencia Koomson, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, would measure vital signs, including oxygen saturation and blood pressure, while factoring in skin color, which can sometimes affect such readings.
Neither Sprint idea advanced further, but Richardson calls the team experience invaluable. “Sometimes you have to navigate difficult conversations and that’s important because it's translated into other classwork and other team projects outside of Tufts Gordon Institute.”
Helping people facing health challenges begins with respectful listening, she says. “We have a tendency, in science and technology, to automatically assume, oh, this is a problem; let me solve it. But my Sprint experience really made it clear that we can’t solve the problem without listening to the patient’s journey,” she says. “By going beyond the textbook and the statistics we find online, we were able to talk with people and better understand the key problems they were facing, with the goal of understanding how we can help effectively.”
The Tufts program has also enlarged Richardson’s experience as a researcher, first kindled as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies and biotechnology with distinction.
While at Syracuse, she pursued research through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented populations in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and the Ronald E. McNair Scholar program.
After her first Sprint project, Richardson sought out Assistant Professor Juan Gnecco, a mentor because his research involving tissue engineering and reproductive biology overlaps with her interest in reproductive justice.
And she deepened her lab experience by taking a tissue engineering research lab course with Research Assistant Professor Ying Chan that gave her the chance to collaborate with a postdoctoral researcher, Sabrina Madiedo-Podvrsan, investigating how silk-based hydrogels can help improve understanding of the development of fibrosis.
“These experiences revealed and reaffirmed the importance of translational research where we can directly impact tons of lives—based on what we do in the lab—and also solidified my desire to want to become a physician-scientist and pursue a scientific career that advances our understanding of human diseases and potential therapeutics,” says Richardson. “Prior to Tufts, I didn’t even know reproductive engineering was a thing. But through our Amoova sprint project, more about Juan’s work and the powerful tool of silk, I know that in the future I can leave my scientific legacy at advancement therapeutics for gynecological diseases.”
From a Family of Healers
Richardson grew up the youngest of 11 in Buffalo, New York, where her Pops runs a lawn-care service and her mother is a nurse. Sometimes it was hard to make ends meet, “but they made do, and instilled in all of us the concept of grit and hard work,” she says. “I also learned that attitude of being a person who can take action; If you want something and you don't see it, you’ve got to figure it out.”
She credits her mother (and her sister, who is also a nurse), for instilling empathy for people grappling with health issues.
“I come from a family of healers,” a family “that is all about community and faith,” she says.
“We realize that everything we do is not just for us. Everything I do is because of the sacrifices from those who came before me, including my parents, siblings, and ancestors, and for those who will come after me.”
Her family’s experiences with health disparities and challenges with the medical system also spurred her desire to learn about science and medicine, to become the health care provider that her family and others like them could trust and rely on.
That outlook came into sharper focus during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a contact tracer and case investigator in western New York, Richardson saw how the virus struck some households harder than others, given the limited access to resources in some zip codes.
She vowed to help address those disparities. “I didn’t want my career to find me siloed in a lab, but rather to bring me closer to real problems and to understanding how we make science more useful for society.”
Beyond the Classroom
In addition to her academic pursuits, the larger Boston community provides Richardson with ample opportunities to create a positive impact. She has completed two public policy and access internships with the nonprofit National Bleeding Disorders Foundation, as part of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM) GROW program, where her introduction to patient advocacy included writing letters to senators seeking access to gene and cell therapies for patients who have rare bleeding disorders.
She’s also participated in the MIT DHIVE (Dive into Healthcare Innovation and Venture Exploration) entrepreneurship program, focusing on long COVID and chronic illnesses and involving patients in research design.
Richardson isn’t focused on her own training exclusively, though; she lives by the mantra, “Lift others as you climb.” She was a mentor for Minds Matter Boston, which connects students from low-income families with support to succeed in college. She recalls one high school sophomore, who, in personality, work ethic, and background, was very much like her: the youngest of her siblings and the first generation to go to college, she worked part-time to save up for college.
“She’s gone way out of her comfort zone to attend a semester-long immersion project on the coast of Maine,” Richardson says. “I found it encouraging to see her level of independence and confidence. That, to me, is what it’s all about. She was figuring it out—and she was unstoppable.”
Richardson is also a member of the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., where she co-chairs the Delta GEMS (Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully) program, an initiative that helps Black high school-aged girls from underserved communities feel more empowered about themselves and their decisions throughout high school as they prepare for college.
In addition, she is recruiting medical professionals to participate in a program started by the nonprofit MV3 Foundation to help Black and Brown students enter and make an impact on the fields of health and biomedical sciences. “We want to be sure younger students are exposed to these opportunities so that they can see another form of reality that they may not have thought of,” she says. “I think it’s important to pour into the community wherever we are, especially if what we are doing in academia is supposed to help transform lives for the better.”
A Greater Purpose
Through her graduate studies and volunteer efforts, Richardson is helping others while simultaneously preparing herself for the challenges she will face as a medical student, doctor, and health care leader. While much has been given to her, she says, much is also required.
“I did not get here all by myself. It took a village for me to get to where I am,” she says. “I must pay it forward by ensuring my nieces, nephews, community members, cousins—whoever—are all good and have the same opportunities, if not more, to be whatever and whoever they want to be.”
The calling to serve a greater purpose than herself keeps her going, she says. “My journey, the work, the late nights, the sacrifices, are all part of the divine work that’s required of me.”