Wasan Kumar, a third-year student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a student leader active in improving health equity on Chicago’s west side. As part of West Side United and Rush University Medical Center, he has been implementing a program to identify patients with social determinant of health needs and connecting them with the relevant resources. At UIHealth he has been studying contextualized care errors, which occur when physicians overlook crucial environmental or social factors when making medical decisions. He serves as a Leadership Council member in the UIC Peer Health Exchange chapter, a student organization which coordinates undergraduate student volunteers to teach a skills-based health education curriculum to first-year Chicago Public School students. He has also been an intern in the office of State Rep Theresa Mah. On campus he is involved in the South Asian community, serving as the president of the Indian Students Association. He has been working to combat political apathy and the effects of the model minority myth in this community. He is also heavily involved in research as part of the UIC College of Medicine Pathology Department, studying the effects of heavy metals on cardiovascular disease.
I believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity to health, but the reality is one’s zip code can add or subtract decades from their life. Moving from the suburbs to Chicago showed me some of the struggles faced by others, and I realized I could do more to address these issues. I began to work on projects centered around health equity specifically on Chicago’s West Side through Rush Medical Center and UIHealth. These experiences taught me how various social and environmental factors can impact an individual’s health, but also how the proper allocation of resources and power can mitigate these effects. I went on to develop health policy and work in the office of a state legislator. I joined a student organization which teaches health education to high school freshmen who otherwise may not have access, and I hope to empower others to pursue collective action around these issues. More recently, I have been interested in the influence of progressive policy on improving people’s lives and have canvassed for political campaigns that share those views. In the future, I want to develop innovative nationwide policies that reduce the impact of the structural inequities that determine health.