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Star of the Month

December 2023

Aileen Zhang
School of Medicine

Congratulations to our Star of the Month for December, Aileen Zhang from the School of Medicine! Aileen has been very active in our Baltimore community this year working together with her colleagues in the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association to partner with New Song Community Church for their recent Sandtown Community Health Screening! Read our interview below to learn more about her experience volunteering in Baltimore.


Tell us a little bit about yourself! What brought you to the School of Medicine?

Hi SOURCE! Thank you for featuring our partnership with the New Song Community Church and greater Sandtown community on your platform. My name is Aileen, and I am a 2nd year medical student at Hopkins. I grew up in central Maryland and moved to Dallas, Texas during high school. I went to college in California at UC Berkeley (go bears!), and I returned to Maryland for research. During my gap years, I found myself re-exploring Bethesda, Rockville, Wheaton, Ellicott City, and eventually Baltimore, and I realized the beautiful communities that I missed out on while growing up in Maryland. I applied to medical school in 2021, and my decision to come to Hopkins was heavily influenced by my desire to stay in my home state. I also appreciated how Hopkins students have made active efforts to reconnect and build partnerships with community members in Baltimore, and I could see myself doing the same as a medical student here.


Can you share a little background about your experience in the Baltimore community through your work with New Song? What made you want to get involved and what work are you doing?

I wanted to get more involved in community health programming, so I joined the Hopkins chapter of Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA). A lot of our partnerships with community organizations were placed on pause during COVID, so it was exciting to brainstorm ways to rebuild local relationships. Last spring, we held a bone marrow donor registration drive with Be the Match during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with a goal of diversifying the current donor pool. It was an incredibly gratifying process and it encouraged me to get involved in more programming beyond the Hopkins campus.

I reached out to Baltimore churches, pantries, free clinics to gauge interest in health services, and eventually found partnership with Pastor Wilson and other members of the New Song Community Church in Sandtown, Baltimore. I couldn’t have done this without my colleagues Erica Lin, Howard Li, Sarah Goldfarb, Alvina Pan, Yuqing Xu, and Ganiat Giwa.

We met face-to-face with Pastor Wilson and Dajuan Price of New Song to learn about the history of Hopkins services in Sandtown, the nuances and persistence necessary to building trust with community members, and the regular programming integral to maintaining a partnership. From this conversation, New Song and APAMSA proceeded towards organizing the Sandtown Community Health Screening. On the day of, 14 medical student volunteers took blood pressures and BMI, counseled participants on linkage to care resources that they were eligible for, and provided motivational interviewing on tobacco cessation, alcohol use, and dietary change. The Hepatitis B Initiative of DC (HBI-DC) also joined us to provide free blood glucose readings, as well as Hepatitis B/C and HIV screening. The participant turnout at the event was super exciting for all of us, and their gratitude and interest in the event made the entire process incredibly special.


What service projects do you have planned in the future? Are there any activities where others can get involved?

We do have other service activities in the works! I’ve always loved to work with kids on academics, like tutoring and teaching science lessons. I think it would be just as valuable to bring different cultural and language experiences to kids, especially because we get to show them how to be more open and compassionate when engaging with people that are different from them. We are working on starting regular programming, including Language Partners and Multicultural Night, to introduce Baltimore elementary schoolers to the languages, holidays, and foods enjoyed by different cultures and ethnicities. The goal would be to have Hopkins students (from any school) introduce their cultural backgrounds to students. If anyone is interested in working with us, please contact me (!

"Our medical curriculum does address some of the serious social disparities that impact health outcomes, access to care, and quality of care, but it is also important to listen to, and build relationships with, people who are experiencing these disparities and injustices day-by-day."


How does your community work complement what you're learning in the classroom at the School of Medicine?

Community work has been essential to my medical education and experience at Hopkins. Our medical curriculum does address some of the serious social disparities that impact health outcomes, access to care, and quality of care, but it is also important to listen to, and build relationships with, people who are experiencing these disparities and injustices day-by-day. It makes you more cognizant of how crucial it is to build trust with a patient by listening to their concerns, identifying structural barriers to care, and providing patient education. For instance, if a patient tests positive for hepatitis C, it’s important to not only treat them with direct-acting antivirals, but to also make sure that they have a primary care provider for regular follow-up, health insurance, and transportation to their PCP and pharmacy. They need to trust you and understand why hepatitis C needs to be treated, and what measures are necessary to prevent reinfection. Even if you know how to diagnose and treat the disease, you should also make sure that the patient can access, believe in, and ultimately benefit from your medical care.


What advice would you give to other students looking to volunteer in Baltimore or engage in service-learning?

Start with SOURCE! There are so many opportunities to get involved!


What is the most important experience you’ve had or thing you’ve learned?

I think that talking with patients has been one of the most important learning experiences that I have had thus far. They have been gracious in lending their time and vulnerability to a learner, and I am very grateful for it. From these conversations, I’ve realized the importance of language and persistence. Patients with poor experiences with health care can often identify specific language that the provider used, imparting a sense of insensitivity, disregard, or confusion for the patient. In addition, patients who have experienced tremendous loss or setback have stunned me with their persistent efforts to grieve, recover, and adapt. With these lessons in mind, I have a newfound understanding of the importance of communication and mindset in delivering and receiving medical care.


Aileen, we thank you, APAMSA and New Song for your tremendous service to our community!