• Student Driven to Improve Care for Underserved Communities

    Feb. 22, 2024, David Mitchell — Breanna Chachere, M.P.H., entered medical school believing she was destined for a career in obstetrics and gynecology. That passion for maternal health led her to a fellowship project in collaboration with the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and the University of Houston’s Healthy Start Program, as well as multiple research roles with the University of California – San Diego Health Sciences and the Perinatal-Neonatal Quality Improvement Network of Massachusetts.

    Her career path changed, however, when she saw both her parents “fall through the cracks” in the health system.

    Chachere’s father suffered a stroke and died at age 62 during her first year at the University of Houston’s Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine in 2021. A few months later, her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Despite surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, her mother died in November 2023 at age 61.

    “I have a big interest in maternal health,” she said. “I went back and forth between OB/Gyn and family medicine, but family medicine gives me the opportunity to do a lot of advocacy work. Losing my mom and dad, and reflecting on their journeys makes me want to be a primary care doctor who can have a big impact on making sure people are getting the care they need at the right time. I can’t shake the feeling that if my parents had better primary care experiences their experiences could have been different.”

    Chachere took a break from medical school last fall to care for her mother during her final months. She plans to resume her rotations this summer.

    “When I realized that my mom would need a lot of support, I decided to take the year off because I would have been entering my M4 year,” she said. “I would have been applying for residency and going on away rotations. But as a medical student who could help my mother better understand her illness and treatment, it was important for me to be with her at all of her medical appointments. And as a daughter, it was even more important for me to just be with her and my family.”

    Chachere has stayed busy during her leave. In addition to her maternal and child health research roles, she’s an emerging scholar for the National African American Child and Family Research Center. Her research internship is focused on African American children’s and family health. She also is a scholar in the Johnson & Johnson Alliance for Innovation in Medicine program, which prepares underrepresented minority medical students to address health disparities.

    Chachere’s interest in helping underserved communities started early. After graduating from Rice University with a psychology degree, she coordinated a drop-out prevention program for at-risk high school and junior high students in LaPorte and Pearland, Texas.

    “I came in thinking I would do tutorials and provide students with a lot of academic resources,” she said, “but I realized quickly that my students who were struggling in class had a lot of needs that weren’t being met at home.”

    In addition to providing academic support, Chachere connected students and their families to community resources.

    “I was getting students glasses, making sure they had food on the weekends, making sure that they were able to go to the doctor and the dentist,” she said. “I got to where I was because of all the people who supported me through high school and undergrad, so I wanted to be able to give back to students coming after me. At the same time, I had this feeling that medicine was calling me.”

    Chachere went back to school, earning a master’s degree at Boston University School of Public Health. Her research there ignited her passion in maternal health.

    “There was a point where I thought I would stay in public health and do maternal health research,” she said, “but I was missing that clinical relationship and that ability to have an impact on people’s health in the unique way that only a physician can. I really enjoy working with pregnant women and having an opportunity to help them understand the risks of pregnancy and things they can do to make their pregnancy safer. I fell in love with that work.”

    But the decision to go on to medical school wasn’t easy for Chachere, who struggled with imposter syndrome.

    “I knew people who looked like me in education,” she said, “but I didn’t know many people who look like me in medicine. It was only when I got to public health school that I had a really great mentor who was a Black woman physician from Texas, like me. She really supported me and helped me to see my leadership potential. I realized you don’t have to be perfect to go into medicine. It’s about your heart as well. I’ve been blessed with so many academic opportunities, and I feel a responsibility to my future patients, to my family and to others from my community. You go into medicine for a purpose bigger than yourself. I had to get over that fear and do this for those people who need me.”

    Chachere found her “perfect landing spot” at the University of Houston. The medical school opened in 2020 with a focus on developing primary care physicians.

    “We have a lot of family physicians on faculty who have exposed me to the broad scope and the breadth of family medicine that incorporates OB,” she said. “Family medicine gives me an opportunity to have a unique impact on maternal and child health through mom and baby dyad care. Instead of families having to prioritize postpartum visits and well-child checks, they can visit their family doctor who will prioritize their whole family’s health.”

    Chachere already has taken on leadership roles in family medicine. She chairs the Student National Medical Association’s Specialty Interest Group in Family Medicine and previously served as the AAFP’s liaison to SNMA. She served as a statewide Family Medicine Interest Group coordinator for the Texas AFP and currently is a regional coordinator for the AAFP’s FMIG Network.

    In the latter role, she will help plan programming for the AAFP’s National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, which is Aug. 1-3 in Kansas City, Mo.

    “We all come into medical school wanting to make an impact on patients, but doing research, having leadership roles and being involved in the community allow you to broaden that impact,” she said. “Having a seat at the table allows me to be in the room to make medicine better, make medical education better and make the experience better for other students, and it allows me to advocate for the things that I’m passionate about.”

    She said her leadership roles have helped her develop skills that include public speaking, advocacy, working with interdisciplinary groups and understanding how to balance it all.

    “I’ve leveraged all of these skills to grow a broad network of community leaders across the country who I will continue to partner with and learn from throughout my career,” she said.