Mary Tate ’17 knew she wanted to be an obstetrician before she could spell the word.
Growing up in Kenosha, Wis., she was the youngest of eight children. One brother has severe mental disability; another brother passed away while she was in college. Because of her siblings’ experiences, she has closely witnessed how the health care system does and sometimes doesn’t work.
“What I’m very passionate about, and what I want to do in my future, is work to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities in infant mortality.”—Mary Tate
“My family has seen our fair share of hospitals and physicians. I’ve seen a lot of doctors do it not so great, and I’ve seen a lot of doctors do it fantastically,” she said. “I’ve seen how big of a role a physician can play at really critical moments of crises in folks’ lives—and how much that can stay with you,” she says.
As a result, the practice of medicine called to Tate, who saw it as the perfect opportunity to meaningfully bond with patients and be challenged intellectually in a rapidly changing field.
She also recalled how she was shocked to her core when she learned in college that infant mortality rates in her home state were four times higher for African-American babies than for their Caucasian counterparts.
Eventually, the interest she had as a young girl in becoming an obstetrician grew into a young woman’s conviction that she might be able, someday, to change the odds that are stacked against children in certain segments of society whose needs go unmet.
“I’m very interested in issues that surround medicine,” she said. “What I’m very passionate about, and what I want to do in my future, is work to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities in infant mortality,” Tate says.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Tate won a fellowship to work with One Heart World-Wide, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve maternal and neonatal health in remote, rural corners of the world.
There she learned about the power of community health workers to influence health outcomes and began thinking about how those strategies might be translated to the United States.
Two months after arriving at HMS, Tate did just that. She cofounded MOMS—Medical Students Offering Maternal Support—a program that matches medical students with pregnant women at community health centers in months-long, mutually beneficial relationships.
MOMS gives the mothers-to-be close attention, and the amount of time students spend following individual patients—more than what’s usually possible during medical school—provides the students with profound lessons.
With the support of the Center for Primary Care at HMS, the pilot program that started at the Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester is now being expanded in collaboration with the child and family services program at the Dimock Center in Roxbury, both of which serve people in Boston neighborhoods where infant mortality rates have fallen but still remain higher than in more affluent areas.
And that’s not all: Tate wants to be sure that the methods they are employing, which she believes are successfully improving patient health, are as effective as she thinks they are.
“After my third year, I’ll be applying to programs to do a master’s in public health,” she said. “I’d love to acquire some skills in quantitative methods, to better prepare me to do the kind of research that I’m interested in right now.”
For Tate, the future will be spelled OB-GYN, MD and MPH.