Sriram Shamasunder is leading a movement of healthcare professionals committing to work long-term in underserved communities around the world, including in Navajo Nation.
As Sri Shamasunder often says, he was a poet before he was a doctor, mentored by a college poetry professor, June Jordan, who passed away from cancer during his first year of medical school. During that year, he recalls, they spoke by phone every week, as she encouraged him to harness righteous anger and to use his voice to fight inequity.
Today, these words still inspire Shamasunder’s work as a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and as the co-founder and director of the HEAL Initiative, an equity-based global health fellowship that empowers health professionals to provide quality care for communities in-need around the world. Through a rigorous application process, HEAL selects and pairs U.S.-trained health professionals with front-line clinicians from resource-denied communities, supporting their growth from front-line clinicians, to global health leaders.
Since its founding in 2015, HEAL has built a workforce of health care professionals serving Navajo Nation, and nine countries around the world, including Mexico, India, Haiti, and Rwanda. Over the last five years, HEAL has trained 150 front-line health workers, more than half of whom are Navajo or from low- and middle- income countries.
"We need the best health workers to serve areas with the highest burden of disease,” Shamasunder says. “Too often it’s the opposite.”