Empowering Girls Through
a Love of Medicine
Dr. Jasmine Zapata
I am able to balance all of this because I have an incredible support system. My mother moved to Madison when I came here to help with my
kids. Also, I am very spoiled by my husband. He is so incredible. We started dating when I was 16 and we got married when I was 19. He has
always supported every dream I had. When I am working long shifts, he takes care of the kids. He is really so amazing and the reason I am
able to do everything I do.
Q: Why Madison?
A: I originally got to Madison because when I was in Milwaukee, I needed a new start. There was a lot going on with my family and also, my
brother suddenly passed away in my junior year in college. He was only 16. He just died in his sleep. It was a pretty traumatic experience. I
didn't go away for college, so having a fresh start and being able to move was something that was good for my family and I. Although I got into
some great places, I realized I needed to stay close to my support system. I wanted to stay in Wisconsin, but I wanted to get away from
Milwaukee. I got a full-tuition scholarship to Madison for medical school, so Madison seemed like a great place.
Q: So you like Madison?
A: I like Madison. That was the decision at first, but now that I have been here, I actually love the family-friendly environment. It's a small
community where you don't know everybody, but you still know people and the collaboration I truly do love. I found an amazing church family
with Fountain of Life and just people who have supported me through everything. Madison definitely has its problems, like there is a lot of
racial disparities and a lot of different issue. But every city has its problems. I really love the community that I have formed here.
Q: What was the journey like for you obtaining your medical degree?
A: My journey was honestly a difficult one due to two notable hardships along the way. My junior year in college right before I was getting ready
to take the medical college admissions test, my 16-year-old brother died suddenly. It was a very sudden and devastating loss for my family and
I literally thought I would lose my mind. But by the grace of God, my strong support system, mom, husband and other community, I was able to
make it through and made the decision to continue pursuing my medical education. Once in medical school, during the second and most
challenging year, my daughter was born prematurely. I was due January 2 and had her on September 20. I was only about 5.5 months pregnant.
She was 1.5 pounds and was unable to breathe on her own and had other life threatening complications. She was on life support for quite a
while and had a brain bleed requiring brain surgery twice for hydrocephalus. This is all while I was in medical school. But with the amazing
expertise of all the NICU staff and the grace of God she survived and I'm so thankful.
As a mom in the NICU when your child is in a life threatening and chronic situation like that, they tell you in order to stay sane, don't just stare at
the baby all day and get yourself overly anxious and worried. They recommended I keep my normal routine and it's funny because my "normal"
routine just happened to be being a medical student. So in order to keep my mind off all that was going on, I would often bring my flashcards
and study materials to the hospital and study. My friends from med school and church community and family were so supportive as well. Long
story short, I was able to still graduate from medical school in four years and become a doctor. I also had a lot of other personal and family
obstacles on my journey we don't have time to get into here. But overall, the journey to obtaining my medical degree was rough. It was like a
crazy rollercoaster ride, but everything I experienced was actually vital in shaping me into who I am today and I'm actually able to better relate
with patients and families as a result of the things I went through along my path.
Q: Are you satisfied with the number of women of color practicing as physicians in our city?
A: NO!! Locally and nationally we have a shortage of women of color practicing as physicians. That is one reason I started a pre-med
mentorship group for young women of color or disadvantaged backgrounds that are interested in being doctors or other health professionals
one day. I now have over 250 young ladies in the mentorship group from all over the United States and some even abroad. It's really growing
and I love them all so much. I have other physicians of color that help me out in the group as well and do live stream question and answer on
various topics and help encourage the ladies. It's a pipeline mentorship program starting with girls as young as elementary school all the way
up through college, med school, residency and beyond. It's my way of helping create a solution to the shortage of physicians, particularly,
female physicians of color. A good handful of my mentees live in Madison, so hopefully they will be future physicians that will help add to the
diversity we lack in this city as you mentioned. Just give me 5-10 years and I will have an army!
Q: Did you face obstacles as a Black woman getting to your current juncture as a physician? If so, what were the obstacles and how did you
A: As a Black woman, I was often and still am often mistaken for cleaning staff, nurse, nurse assistant, volunteer or basically anything else
other than the physician when I'm in the workplace. Once I was in the emergency room during my pediatrics training taking care of an ill child
and went in with a white male (and tall) respiratory therapist. The family kept looking at him and addressing him as the doctor ignoring me. We
had to repeatedly keep telling them I was the doctor and he was the RT. That happens a lot. Last month walking into work at the hospital, there
was a new desk receptionist who initially swiped me into the unit but then followed behind me and stopped me and asked me what I was doing
there. I clearly had my MD badge on, but I guess she didn't see that. I told her I was the physician and just kept walking. I even had a white
father from a rural area whose son I was admitting to the hospital overnight smile when I walked in the room and ask me nicely to please
"come touch my son, he's never been around any Black people. I just want him to know you are ok." It was crazy! So as a Black woman, I've
definitely had my struggles, but I just use them to make me stronger.
Q: Do you feel that you have been able to find your support system within the city?
A: Yes, I have found an excellent support system within the city. I moved to Madison a year after my brother passed away and my family was
pretty broken. I found some amazing friends and community here that helped my family through it. I'm so thankful. Currently, I am personally and
professionally benefiting from are Fountain of Life Covenant Church, Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, Project X Young
Adult Christian Fellowship, The Fourth Watch, Foundation for Black Women's Wellness, Rebalanced Life Health and Wellness Association, Hey
Miss Progress Black Business Expo, Building Bosses, Madison Elite Track Club, African American Health Network, Peace Network, Urban
League Young Professionals and more.
Q: I have seen much about your work in the community, particularly the work you do with young girls. Talk about that.
A: I really have a passion for working with young girls. The biggest thing that is on my heart to talk with them about is inner beauty, self-esteem,
resilience and being able to overcome. I am able to share with them that even though sometimes we can't change our surroundings, we can
overcome and make it; even if you are going through hard times, don't give up. There is always going to be a brighter day. That is my mission.
One of the biggest things I do is girls empowerment lock-ins and overnighters with young girls. We talk about all of those issues I spoke of. We
do bonding, work on community sisterhood and building relationships. Later in the night, we start talking and I take anonymous questions as
well, where they ask about anything in life, whether it is relationships, their bodies, sex or different problems they are going through. We really
just open up and talk.
I work with young girls in the community through a community choir called Madison Inspirational Youth Choir. It is for boys and girls. I do
break-out sessions with the girls to deal with the issues that matter to them. We do empowerment sessions before rehearsal and talk about
issues in the community and things they are facing, and ways that as young people they can make a difference.
I am the volunteer assistant coach and team doctor for the Madison Elite Track Club, which is led by Venus Washington. We grew up in
Milwaukee together and ran track and we both ended up in Madison. She has a phenomenal program going on. We use track and sports to
teach kids those lessons about never giving up and overcoming hurdles.
I am involved with the youth program at Fountain of Life. I do special events and talks about the body and talk to the parents about health and
wellness. I am also on the advisory board of the Foundation for Black Women's Wellness. I worked closely with Lisa Peyton-Caire to start the
teen programming for Black Women's Wellness Day. For the last two years, we put a three-hour session together for Black teen girls who come
to the event. We talk to them on their level about issues they are dealing with and teach them about inner beauty. We put together the Day of the
Girl last fall, which was a spin-off of Black Women's Wellness Day. We had poet K-Love come and we spent four hours with over 60 girls.
And as I said I have a national mentorship program for girls who are interested in medicine.
Q: What inspires you to do all this good work?
A: I've been inspired by some of the stories that I have heard from people that I have met over the years. There are girls that I have met and the
first moment they find out they are pregnant they call me before they talk to their parents because they are scared. I look at all the upstream
determinants of health or upstream factors that led to that, the stress that they are under, the poverty that they are dealing with. Feeling like I
was helpless kind of spurred me to invite the girls to my house for a sleepover to talk about their situation. While there are a lot of people
working on long-term solutions, I wondered who is going to take care of these girls in the moment when they are going through hard issues. So
this is where I feel my calling is.
Nia Trammell is a professional working in the legal field.
There is no question that there is a dearth of Black physicians providing medical care in our increasingly
diverse community. When our highly regarded UW School of Medicine and Public Health produces Black
physicians — like Dr. Jasmine Zapata — who take root here and invest as stakeholders in our community, there
is much to celebrate. Dr. Zapata, who grew up in Milwaukee, traversed significant obstacles to become a
physician. But she got there. She is now working as a pediatrician while pursuing her studies to be a
preventative medicine doctor. This shift for her was masterful by design and a move that will allow her to marry
her love of medicine with her principled charge to reach out to young girls facing challenges in life.
Q: For our readers who don't know Dr. Jasmine Zapata, what would you like them to know about you?
A: I grew up in Milwaukee and went Riverside High School. I ran track there and I was involved in a lot of
different things. I went to Marquette for college. Then I moved to Madison for medical school. I have been here
for residency to get all of my pediatric training, so I have settled in here.
I am a board certified pediatrician. I work in the newborn nursery doing circumcisions and resuscitation for
babies who come out and are not breathing. I work there clinically part-time because I decided to go back to
school to become a preventative medicine and public health doctor. I realized being a pediatrician in the ICU
treating a suicide attempt or a teen with a sexually transmitted disease that I needed to be able to reach out to
youth before they ended up in ICU. This is why I decided to go back and become a preventative medicine doctor.