In earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nina Bouzamondo-Bernstein, an aspiring doctor, saw the lockdowns disrupting the usual internship path for pre-med students. More concerning, they were exacerbating obstacles faced by many of her peers — namely, issues of inequity and accessibility. She quickly sprang into action.
Bouzamondo-Bernstein, a third-year biopsychology major, soon founded Pre-Health Shadowing (PHS), a nonprofit organization that aims to expand options for such students to learn about a variety of different jobs in medicine. Finding hands-on experiences and mentoring in the field of medicine was difficult before the pandemic, she said, and nearly impossible at the height of it.
“Pre-Health Shadowing was inspired by this idea of being able to create accessible opportunities for students,” said Bouzamondo-Bernstein, a transfer student who came to Santa Barbara by way of UC Merced. “Medicine is a very elitist field. You have to have the means to pursue it.”
Struck in particular by the experience of a friend leaving school to support her family, Bouzamondo-Bernstein was driven to create those avenues for everyone — regardless of income level, location or means of transportation.
“There was one friend of mine at UC Merced who was interested in going into medicine but ended up dropping out of college because she had to help her family pay the bills,” Bouzamondo-Bernstein recalled. “She had to postpone her career, and that was a catalyst for me. I wanted to provide opportunities that anyone could participate in, despite their circumstances.”
Her organization, which now has 46,000 members (and counting), helps students get crucial access to healthcare professionals who might inspire or mentor them. And most importantly, Bouzamondo-Bernstein said, it lets them connect with these professionals on their own schedules. “It’s 100% remote and superflexible,” she said. “This allows students to engage in what they need to do in their lives outside of school while also pursuing their long-term career goals.”
Amid her own studies, Bouzamondo-Bernstein estimates that she spends 20 to 50 hours per week working on PHS. As the organization’s CEO, she helps to oversee every part of daily operations, including onboarding and training for large groups of volunteers. She often hosts the virtual shadowing sessions herself.
Bouzamondo-Bernstein is especially proud, though, of the diversity that anchors and lies at the heart of PHS. “It’s diverse in the speakers we have, their backgrounds, careers and even the types of presentations they give,” she said.
As the pandemic continues to shift, Bouzamondo-Bernstein aspires to also start offering in-person opportunities for pre-health students around the globe while continuing to honor her commitment to equity.
“This affects everyone,” she said of her desire to keep PHS as accessible as possible through the ongoing pandemic, and thereafter. “These are the future doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and dentists that are going to be taking care of all of us.”