Improving Medicine To Serve All People

Asmaa Rimawi researches the effects of discrimination on health, health care delivery

Photo portrait of Rimawi

Asmaa Rimawi. Image: John Soares

The summer of 2018 had been a busy one for Asmaa Rimawi, MD ’21, a rising third-year medical student at HMS. Classes, followed by clinics, followed by the beginning of her surgical rotation filled her days.

Yet, Rimawi, MD 2021, still found time to research the effects of discrimination on health and on the delivery of health care. Whether it was her service on the dean’s task force on diversity and inclusion, her participation in the School’s efforts to recruit students from populations traditionally underrepresented in medicine, or her efforts to establish a clinic in the mosque serving the Islamic community where she grew up in Brooklyn, New York, Rimawi seeks to further improve how medicine serves all people.

“Serving as my mother’s translator in clinical situations at a young age made it clear to me that our medical system is not equipped to handle patients from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and languages,” recalled Rimawi. “As I grew older, I learned about the source of some of these gaps in care. I learned about how a patient’s wait time before securing a doctor’s appointment can depend on form of payment,  how much the infant mortality rate changes depending on the color of a baby’s skin, and how access to basic necessities of health, from affordable healthy foods to crucial medications, is limited in most populations. To me, health care became the ultimate testament to equity, a reflection of the progress our society had yet to make.”

“I was motivated to go into medicine to explore these gaps in care, to understand the role doctors can play in advancing the conversation on discrimination in this country,” she added, “and to learn how much my mother’s experience in the health care system was affected by the scarf on her head or the language she spoke.”

Rimawi’s time in clinic has reinforced the value that patient interaction holds for her. 

“I think the ability to meet so many different people and almost instantly form a relationship with them is something unique to the profession of medicine,” said Rimawi. “As a physician, I have to build a therapeutic alliance with my patients, sometimes within minutes, if I hope to be a part of the decisions they make regarding their health. This, for me, is both a privilege and responsibility.”

This profile has been adapted and updated from a Harvard Medicine magazine story.