Zack is a Pittsburgh native in his third-year of studying medicine at UCSF. He moved to California to study Human Biology at Stanford, where he concentrated in infectious diseases and global health. After graduating in 2011, he spent a year working with the Dengue Relief Foundation, Sustainable Sciences Institute, and PATH in Matagalpa, Nicaragua on mobile health initiatives as a Field Fellow. He returned to the SF Bay Area to work as a Project Manager with Medic Mobile where he oversaw the mobile health projects with community clinics in Palo Alto and Redwood City to empower patients to manage their diabetes with cell phone tools.
At UCSF, Zack has been an active member of his CMA and AMA chapter, serving as a co-director of the chapter and the Vice Chair of Policy in the Medical Student Section of the CMA. He co-authored a resolution with his UCSF colleagues that resulted in AMA support of the FDA revised nutrition labels and recommended labeling changes for sugar-sweetened beverages. He co-directed a student-led course on Environmental Health and Social Justice and was awarded the Dean’s Prize in Research and Scholarship for his contributions to a community-based air quality and biomonitoring study in a region of hydraulic fracturing in Wyoming. He hopes to pursue a career in medicine that combines patient-care with public, environmental health and policymaking.
Why are you a SFMS member?
I’m a proud member of the SFMS because I see local, organized medicine as the best way to engage with our communities and local government on issues of public health and patient care. I got involved as a first-year student at the annual UCSF-SFMS mixer where I met SFMS physicians and residents who were eager to welcome us to the world of medicine and offer mentorship and support. We’ve had great success over the last year engaging students and faculty through on-campus collaborations, such as our Panel on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes, or direct action in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Which SFMS member resource is most helpful to you?
As a medical student, I’ve been most appreciative of the SFMS physician leadership -- both past and present -- as well as the staff who serve to keep us engaged despite our busy course schedules and student turnover. Jessica Kuo has been a fantastic resource and liaison, keeping us connected to SFMS leadership and identifying any and all opportunities for student participation. Steve Heilig has also been a fantastic resource from a public health standpoint, particularly in engaging us in resolution-writing and contributing to the SFMS journal.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’m an avid cyclist, hiker, and runner, so I take every opportunity I can to be out on the roads, trails, and parks of the Bay and Northern California. I enjoy drawing and painting, appreciating live music performances around the Bay, playing in the garden, and experimenting in the kitchen with microbes to brew beer or kombucha.
What is the most important thing you learned in medical school or residency?
Humility! The countless stories and experiences that patients, instructors, and colleagues have shared about illness, pain, suffering, and resounding resilience have been deeply moving. Through the clinical immersion in preceptorship, Homeless Clinic, and work at the VA, I’ve been reminded over and over that while I have much to learn from my textbooks and lectures, I’ve got even more to glean from my patients and colleagues..
What are some of the biggest opportunities or challenges you see in health care within the next five year?
Before attending UCSF, I spent a few years working both abroad and domestically on mobile health projects, utilizing cell phones to facilitate chronic disease management and data collection for infectious diseases. I found that these tools are both accessible and empowering for patients and their families to take control of their diabetes or respiratory diseases. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface and I expect that we’ll be incorporating these tools into our daily practices to build stronger connections with our patients.
Cell phones and other technologies are not a panacea, however – they’re merely tools that we need to incorporate thoughtfully and carefully into our practices. I believe the increasing challenges of diabetes and asthma, particularly in children, need to be addressed through upstream public health policy initiatives. Prop E was a tough battle this past year, but one that was particularly inspiring for me and my classmates. The challenges and battles will continue, but we’re ready for them especially with access to technology and social media for engaging partners.
What do you love most about medical school?
Without a doubt, it’s been the people I’ve met and the colleagues I’ve had the great fortune of working with and learning from. I ultimately decided on UCSF because of the wonderful people I’d met during the interview and open-house sessions. They blew me away with their incredible passion for a wide range of topics, diversity of life experiences, and their dedication to patients. It feels like almost every day that I’m floored by an interaction with one of my colleagues and return home feeling humbled and grateful to be at UCSF.
What is a special talent that you have?
I studied at the San Francisco School of Massage and honed my massage skills through the Massage and Meditation elective offered to first- and second-year medical students at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. I’ve felt fortunate to share these skills not only with friends and family, but also through one of the SF General Hospital cancer support groups with classmates from UCSF.
What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?
Palmyra in Lower Haight is a wonderful, family-run Syrian restaurant in my neighborhood that has been a second-home for me over these past two years. Hummus is my comfort food and during difficult weeks of study, but when preparing my own food has taken a back seat, Palmyra has been there for me with a delightful plate of all my favorite Syrian mezze (not to mention the stories that always come with it).
If you weren't preparing to become a physician, what profession would you like to try?
If I weren’t on the road to practicing medicine, I would probably have continued further down the path of bodywork and massage. I’ve always appreciated the healing power of the hands and simple touch, and have always struggled with the costliness and inaccessibility of many types of bodywork. I would’ve loved to explore opportunities to make massage and bodywork more accessible to all, through workshops, trainings, and other programs for the community.