Yale News

When Emmanuella Asabor MED ’24 heard that she had been recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30’s list for Healthcare, she was “floored.” She tried her best to finish teaching the Frontiers on Global Health class she was leading as a teaching fellow and then immediately called her brother to confirm that what she heard was true.

As a MD-PhD dual-degree candidate in epidemiology at the School of Public Health, Asabor’s work focuses on how forces like structural racism influence healthcare. Her background in social studies and medical humanities encouraged her to consider how institutionalized factors influence patient’s experiences, work for which she was recognized by this Forbes award.

“I think what’s most inspiring to me is when my work has resonance for people who are outside of academia,” Asabor said. “My dream has always been to encourage conversations and cross talk between different sectors in order to promote health equity.”

Along with Asabor, many of her mentors shared similar excitement upon hearing the news. Assistant professor of public health Ijeoma Opara, one of Asabor’s research mentors, was delighted to hear that Asabor had been recognized. 

“I was ecstatic,” Opara wrote in an email to the News. “When I saw the article, I literally jumped out of my chair and started screaming. I texted her in big bold letters, this is MAJOR!!!! Then the next thing I asked her was, ‘can I share this on Twitter?’ Emmanuella is very humble but I felt the world needed to know what a superstar she is.”

Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund nominated Asabor for the recognition. 

To Vermund, Asabor acted not only as a student but as a colleague in publications and as a teaching fellow. He shared similar sentiments to Opara, stating that for Asabor, this recognition was well-deserved.

“It’s wonderful when an exceptional intellect who has such tremendous social consciousness is also a kind-hearted and warm person,” Vermund said.

When Asabor’s family immigrated from Nigeria to the United States, they sought political asylum due to her mother’s professional work as a journalist. They experienced homelessness and food insecurity, and they lived in neighborhoods that made them feel unsafe. Prior to college, these experiences had felt like individual ones, Asabor said. 

Following a schedule mix-up during her freshman spring, Asabor found herself sitting in on a medical anthropology class in place of the general premedical sequence course she had anticipated taking. However, this experience proved to be a transformative one.

“For the first time in my life, I saw somebody speak in an academic way about things that I had actually experienced in my own life and about the way these things influence people’s healthcare experiences,” Asabor said. 

This class then motivated Asabor to pursue healthcare and research in social justice within healthcare as a profession.

Asabor has since conducted an array of research studies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she studied the way that structural racism influenced how people experienced the pandemic. While there has been significant research on disease rates and their disproportionate distribution across diverse demographics, she found that there was significantly less research on the response to the pandemic. 

In a recent study, Asabor found that patterns of segregation in the four most populous cities in the United States shaped access to COVID-19 testing during the first wave of the pandemic. Communities of color were often less likely to have access to testing centers.

“What I hope this becomes a lesson for is that the societies that are going to be most responsive to public health emergencies like this are societies that prioritize equity from the beginning,” Asabor said. 

Another study that Asabor felt especially passionate about was her research into the disproportionate rate of harm police perpetrate against unarmed Black individuals. Her study found that despite the increase in public scrutiny and police reforms, this issue has not improved.

Beyond research, Asabor is also working with the Yale Center for Asylum Medicine. There, she developed a partnership with HAVEN Free Clinic to ensure that clients were not only provided medical evaluations in support of their applications for asylum status, but that they also had access to primary care regardless of documentation status. 

Dowin Boatright MED ’17, assistant professor of emergency medicine and officer for diversity and inclusion, also mentored Asabor’s research and hopes that others will learn from Asabor’s research and advocacy.

“I hope others will be inspired by her work and understand the impact someone can have on justice in this country, irrespective of their age,” he wrote to the News.  

Associate clinical professor Douglas Shenson also expressed hope that others will follow in Asabor’s footsteps. He is excited to see what more Asabor will accomplish moving forward. Along with her warm and open nature, Shenson believes her conceptual sophistication characterizes her as a leader.

“I think that she should be, and is, a role model for others,” he said. 

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