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KGI Student Cassidy Mirjah-Jablonski Helps Others Navigate the Pandemic Using Education and Resources

For Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) student Cassidy Mirjah-Jablonski, MS ’22, many defining experiences have shaped her decision to pursue a career in medicine, but one moment particularly stands out. It was when a doctor yelled at her as a child.

“My family’s from the Caribbean,” Mirjah-Jablonski said. “In our culture, health isn’t a big focus; you eat whatever you’re given, which generally includes a lot of carbs. I grew up chunky, and I would see my doctor often because I was at risk for diabetes. A doctor once yelled at me to lose weight, and that always stuck with me because I wouldn’t want my doctor yelling at my kid.”

Mirjah-Jablonski decided she would be a different kind of doctor, treating her patients with compassion and respect. She was also strongly influenced by her mother, a single mom who pursued a degree in medicine.

“I would often see her reading books after work,” Mirjah-Jablonski said. “So I wanted to be like her, and I always had a book in my hand. I was probably reading Nancy Drew while she was studying for her next USMLE. She never pressured me because I also really enjoyed writing, but I always had this love of learning, which eventually pushed me to pursue science so I could learn how to take care of the body.”

After graduating from UC Irvine with a biology degree, Mirjah-Jablonski was volunteering at the Lestonnac Free Clinic in Santa Ana when the pandemic started. Mirjah-Jablonski and other volunteers at the clinic began delivering masks and hand sanitizers to houses in the area.

“I often remember that moment because it’s the first thing I remember contributing to the pandemic,” Mirjah-Jablonski said.

Since then, Mirjah-Jablonski has also volunteered at a COVID testing site at Dodger Stadium while attending KGI.

“You’d be surprised at the questions you get from people, which was an important reminder that not everyone has a biology background,” Mirjah-Jablonski said.

This experience inspired Mirjah-Jablonski to pursue the Infectious Diseases concentration within the Master of Science in Applied Life Sciences (MS) program to understand how COVID operates at the molecular level and the mechanisms of how vaccines work.

So far, one of the highlights of Mirjah-Jablonski’s KGI experience has been working with Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor Angelika Niemz. She appreciates how supportive Niemz has been, especially her first semester.

“I love Angelika because she emphasizes the importance of self-care, which I think is rare,” Mirjah-Jablonski said. “We often get caught up in work, and with it all being team-based learning, there’s not a lot of alone time. So it’s nice being able to discuss your personal needs so that you can later integrate them into your routine.”

Mirjah-Jablonski has also enjoyed writing for the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) Journal, which features medical news, volunteer opportunities, a self-care corner, and noteworthy events and projects involving students and faculty. This, along with tutoring K-12 students, has allowed her to integrate her passion for writing into her daily activities while also exercising her love for science and helping others.

Finally, Mirjah-Jablonski volunteers as a scribe for both an allergist and a cardiologist. In addition to answering specific health-related concerns from patients, she fields many questions related to COVID and the vaccine—for instance, whether it is safe to get the vaccine if someone has an allergy or a heart condition.

“I really enjoy that patient interaction,” Mirjah-Jablonski said. “It’s fun to educate people and apply what I learned.”

According to Niemz, Mirjah-Jablonski’s commitment to serving others can be seen in multiple areas.

“Cassy contributes to KGI beyond just academics,” Niemz said. “She is willing and able to step into leadership positions, works effectively in a team, and makes others feel welcome and heard. She is very proactive and invested in what she does.”