Student Spotlight

Zainab Nathani

Zainab Nathani

Hometown: Long Island (East Meadow), New York

Degree Program: MD/MPH, Epidemiology concentration

Class Year: 2024

Undergraduate Major: Macaulay Honors College Psychology, with a Double Minor in Chemistry and Computer Science

Professional Interests: Global Health, Primary Care, Environmental Science

Extracurricular Activities/Involvement: Brooklyn Free Clinic, Downstate Muslim Students Association, AMA/MSSNY, Downstate Physicians for Human Rights, Downstate Dialysis Sidekicks Program, Family Medicine Interest Group

Click here for Zainab Nathani’s LinkedIn profile


1. What drew you to the MD/MPH program at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University? Why did you choose to study public health? 

Once I was certain of my desire to become a physician, I applied to the BA-MD program between CUNY Brooklyn College and SUNY Downstate College of Medicine and was honored to be accepted. Last year, as Brooklyn College seniors within the program, my cohort was able to meet Dr. Demissie and Dr. Joseph, the Dean and Vice Dean of the Downstate School of Public Health, who spoke about the importance of public health within medicine, and the opportunities and skills that having a public health training would bring. After hearing them speak, I became convinced that through a concurrent MPH degree, I would advance one step closer to becoming the type of doctor I wanted to be. This ideal doctor in my mind was one who would sincerely seek to understand the community he/she served, and have an awareness of the intrinsic and extrinsic forces that influence an individual’s well-being, including the natural and built environment, the government and its policies, local community dynamics, and individual stressors. Although this realization came after I had already submitted my medical school application to Downstate, thankfully, I was able to forward that application to the School of Public Health for consideration into the MD/MPH program.


2. What is your favorite aspect of the program and what have you gained from it?  

Although I plan to concentrate in Epidemiology, I am extremely grateful that the program is structured to provide foundation in all five concentrations through its core courses. Through these foundational courses, I was able to more accurately pinpoint my interests within the program, which I could pursue through my concentration, as well as later engage with through opportunities for research and community involvement, and courses in other concentrations. I really appreciate the opportunity to engage with classes outside my chosen concentration, because so many topics that arose during the foundational core courses piqued my interest and my curiosity to learn more. Furthermore, as I began my medical school courses this past August, I realized that although the medical school makes an effort to introduce key public health principles, such as the bio-psycho-social model, social determinants of health, and biostatistics, the dense medical school curriculum does not allow as much room as actually needed for discussion, elaboration and application of these topics. My knowledge from my public health courses therefore function as a vital supplement to my medical school studies, giving me a multi-dimensional, holistic, and community-centered perspective on health, which I believe will serve me well when serving a diverse urban population.


3. Can you recall a memorable in-class or general SUNY Downstate experience that struck you as particularly meaningful? 

The White Coat Ceremony that occurs before one enters medical school is supposed to be a life-changing event. Aspiring doctors are welcomed to the start of the medical school journey by the embrace of their white coats, along with an acceptance of the responsibilities that they hold, such as the recitation of the Hippocratic Oath. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were unable to have our official in-person ceremony, and instead conducted one through Zoom at the end of orientation week, with each student individually standing in their homes to proclaim their dedication to honorable medical practices. Scrolling through the pages of excited white-coat-clad students on Zoom was an unforgettable moment, not only because it marked the beginning of something I had worked towards for so long, but because it highlighted the circumstances within which the Class of 2024 was entering medical school, which, although unfortunate, will inevitably leave a lasting impact on the doctors that we become, and once again emphasizes the importance of public health in all of our lives.


4. Could you describe your activities and involvement at SUNY Downstate? 

I have always loved being involved in extracurricular activities, community service, and any opportunity that would allow me to build my skills. It is with this mindset that I have become involved in the SUNY Downstate Contact Tracing Corps, working to follow-up on campus COVID-19 cases and contacts. I am currently a Junior Volunteer and Administrative Officer for the student-run Anne Kastor Brooklyn Free Clinic, a volunteer with the Downstate Dialysis Sidekicks Program, which aims to provide companionship to youth undergoing long hours of dialysis, and part of the Downstate Chapter of Physicians for Human Rights, which runs the Downstate Asylum Clinic. Lastly, I am a proud member of the Muslim Students Association, Family Medicine Interest Group, and AMA/MSSNY. In the next few months, I hope to become involved in research at Downstate, as well as work with Project TEACH, which teaches fun science modules to pediatric patients, and the TANDEM Project, an online community tutoring and early mentorship program.


5. What are your goals? Do you have plans to further your education or do you have a career in mind upon graduation?  

As someone who has only completed one semester each of both my MD and MPH degree, I believe I have still so much to learn and experience, and thus am keeping an open mind in regards to my view of the future and what I aspire to do for the rest of my life. I am currently interested in Primary Care, particularly Family Medicine, though of course that may change as I continue my education! I believe that Primary Care is undervalued, and that it provides valuable opportunities for community outreach and intervention.


6. Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in Downstate’s MD/MPH program?  

There may be those who are drawn to the MD/MPH but may hesitate due to an uncertainty about what they are “going to do” with the MPH degree. I believe that any doctor will benefit from learning about public health, because the community perspective of public health works hand-in-hand with the more individualized perspective in medicine. However, even beyond that, the opportunities within public health are broad and fit a wide range of interests. My advice would be to keep an open mind and to reach out to the faculty, who are easily approachable and eager to discuss these various paths and opportunities with interested students. Looking at the courses in all five concentrations is also a valuable way to gain prior understanding of the topics that the MPH coursework will expose you to, and accessing information on Downstate’s website can provide you with further details on the field of public health, and the four departments at Downstate’s School of Public Health.