To heal, inspire others

Alumna Dr. Jasmine Zapata shared how Marquette shaped and aided her in helping the next generation of medical professionals during a pandemic

By Alex Nemec, marketing communication specialist  

Dr. Jasmine Zapata graduated from Marquette University with a degree biomedical sciences from the college of health sciences in 2009 and has been doing great things to help her community ever since. 

She went on to be named Wisconsin’s chief medical officer and state epidemiologist in May 2021 – and in her new important role and in her free time, she continues her passion to be the difference.  

Zapata established an online mentorship program called the Madam Dreamers Academy in 2016 for young women of color in their pursuit of higher education and careers in STEM. Madam Dreamers Academy and its over 1,700 members all over the world conduct most of their business virtually, but occasionally have in-person meet-ups locally to support one another.  

Now, as part of her ongoing work within the healthcare system, Zapata has taken note of trends and challenges among health care workers including burnout during the pandemic.  

Here in a Q&A, Zapata details what inspired her to become a doctor, how she is helping the next generation of medical professionals implement healthy work-life balance practices and much more.   

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the health care system for health care workers?  

In general, there are many workers who are getting sick from COVID-19 and are out. So, the strain on the healthcare system is new. Looking at almost two years of the pandemic, though, there are a lot of health care workers who are just emotionally and morally strained. That is something I hope people can keep in mind when they go to the hospital, clinics or work with public health officials. Be kind to them because they’re really going through a lot.  

Remember to please trust the field of medicine and public health. We’re doing everything we can to look for cures and treatments and giving recommendations for prevention, but many times there are people who do not follow guidance – and then it lands them in the hospital in critical condition in some cases. The big ask is that even if you have not trusted medicine or public health in the past, please give us a chance and trust us know because this pandemic is having a hard and rough toll on healthcare workers.  

During your work in health care, what have you seen as the most common reason for worker burnout?  

I would say the most common reason for burnout is related to emotional turmoil and the public not following public health care recommendations, then getting sick and coming in using resources. As a health care worker, you feel like you put your whole career and life into helping people by giving recommendations and guidance, but then people don’t listen to it and come into the health care system and sometimes it is too late to save or help them.  

Another reason for burnout is — especially with the high death tolls with COVID-19 — having to watch family members say goodbye to their loved ones on a virtual screen, watching families be ripped apart, children now without parents. That’s been something that has been hard that I’ve heard from health care colleagues.  

Also, the sheer amount of hours working during this pandemic and knowing that every time you walk into a COVID-19-positive patient’s room, you’re putting yourself at risk and jeopardy for the long term.  

How have you translated the symptoms for burnout into a lesson for students on how to use good work-life balance practices?

In Madam Dreamers Academy not only do we talk about shadowing and the medical college admissions test and the more technical aspect of medicine and preparing to enter that career, but we spend a lot of time talking about self-care, boundaries, confidence and mental health, because you cannot serve others if you yourself are burnt out or running on empty.  

It is critically important to take of your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health as you are on the journey into medicine. I talk about that a lot with my mentees. So, hopefully by the time they are their own attendings, they will keep some of those practices in mind. 

Why is it important to you personally and professionally to be doing this work?  

The work I am doing is part of my life calling. My life mission in general is to heal, uplift and inspire. Whether I am practicing clinically as a physician or pediatrician; whether I am doing research on maternal and child health inequities; whether I’m serving in state leadership roles in public health; whether I am writing music or writing my youth empowerment books; whether I am mentoring future doctors and public health leaders; whether I am supporting my friends and family or volunteering at my church, in everything that I do, my mission is to heal, uplift and inspire.  

I want to use every single experience I have gone through, every piece of knowledge I have attained, every single patient story, everybody who I have had the beautiful honor of encountering and them sharing their stories with me, I want to use that to make positive social impact.  

How did Marquette instill or expand your value of helping others including these students?  

I would say Marquette’s tagline of “Be the Difference” really resonated with me. That was one of the reasons I even decided to attend Marquette in the first place.  

I was a Burke Scholar Program student which allowed me the opportunity to do a tremendous amount of volunteer work while attending college. I really got a chance to see some of the different social determinants of health that were truly impacting citizens of Wisconsin and particularly Milwaukee. It just lit a fire in me to ask, “what can I do with my gifts, my talents, my career and my knowledge to go out and make an even bigger difference in this world?” That’s what spurred me to launch into medical school, public health and all that I am doing now. I was also in the Educational Opportunity Program which really helped me as well and helped foster and support these big dreams and visions.

Being the Difference is so important because we are all in this together and we need to do everything we can to support one another. “Be the Difference” is something I wake up thinking about, I go to sleep thinking about it. It really drives everything that I do. That’s how Marquette inspired me and those are lessons I can never undo. Those are things that can never be taken away from me. Marquette was a huge part of shaping me into who I am today.