Dr. Jasmine Zapata has known she wanted to be a doctor since she was 5 years old. Both in her role at the UW and in her community efforts, Zapata encourages young people of color to pursue careers in medical fields. She created a Facebook group, now up to 500-plus members, for women from diverse backgrounds interested in a career in medicine. And just this summer the UW School of Medicine and Public Health launched a branch of The Ladder, a national mentorship program reaching diverse students interested in health professions from fourth grade up through high school, college and beyond. Zapata, who is serving as co-director of the program, says, “We’re going to talk about resilience and overcoming obstacles because you do face a lot of pressure as a person of a diverse background.”
Zapata is deeply passionate about improving health care for communities of color because as a black woman she has experienced the issue from both sides. “I’ve been discriminated against in health care systems, in the hospital, like, walking into work I’ve been questioned,” she says.
She is also fervent about improving birth outcomes, not only as a pediatrician, but as a black woman who herself had a baby of low birth weight. Zapata’s second child was born premature, at just 25 weeks. Her daughter, now 7, was just 1.5 pounds when she was born and had to undergo multiple surgeries to survive. Zapata was in medical school at the time. Even well-educated black women are more likely to deliver a low birth weight baby than white women who drop out of high school. “So, for personal and professional reasons, I’m really passionate about this issue,” Zapata says.
Outside of her work at UW, Zapata, a 2016 BRAVA Woman to Watch, has developed the Beyond Beautiful International Girls Empowerment Movement. She has written a book for young girls, also called “Beyond Beautiful,” and is currently in the midst of a multi-city speaking tour throughout the Midwest. Zapata sees this endeavor as intimately related to her work as a pediatrician and preventive medicine doctor. “My community work focuses on pre-pre-conception care, a lot of work with young girls—6, 7 years old, teenagers—focusing on inner beauty, resilience, self-esteem, sexual health, healthy relationships, overcoming obstacles, entrepreneurship, all kind of things, supporting the protective factors in young girls’ lives because they’re going to be the future ones giving birth later on in life. So it’s like prevention to the max.”