Devesh Vashishtha

Devesh Vashishtha, a medical student at U.C. San Diego, was recently awarded fellowships in both medicine and environmental science. The Indian American student, whose goal is to eventually run for public office, said: “My end goal is to shape health policy.” (Kyle Dykes/UC San Diego Health photo)

UC San Diego medical student Devesh Vashishtha has been awarded two national fellowships.

The fourth-year Indian American medical student, who expects to graduate this spring, won fellowships in both family medicine and environmental stewardship, the university said in a news release.

Vashishtha, a U.C. medical scholar and former U.C. regents scholar who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at UCSD, is one of only six medical students in the country selected for the 2017 Pisacano Scholars Leadership Program, awarded by the philanthropic arm of the American Board of Family Medicine to foster the professional development of individuals identified as being future leaders in family medicine, the university noted.

Additionally, Vashishtha was awarded a 2017 Switzer Fellowship from the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation — the only medical student to receive the award — to support his interest in environmental justice and public health.

 “My end goal is to shape health policy,” said Vashishtha in the report. “The issues that inspire me are improving people’s access to primary care, disease prevention and early interventions that can both improve public health and lower the total cost of health care,” he added.

“We need primary care to address public health crises like obesity and diabetes, and we need physician payer models that incentivize keeping patients healthy,” the accomplished singer of traditional Indian music and avid student of the Hindu Vedanta philosophical tradition said in the report.

Vashishtha interned with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to help pass the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, which guarantees that private-sector workers earn paid sick leave, according to the university.

The medical student has also served as a legislative contact for the California Academy of Family Physicians, most recently advocating for increased funding to medical residency programs in underserved areas, it added.

Vashishtha in the report said that his interest in environmentalism began with his parents, who are both scientists with a passion for protecting the natural world for future generations.

“I grew up in an environmentally conscious household,” Vashishtha told the university. “My dad went to unusual lengths to protect the environment. He would take glass containers and cups to parties so we didn’t use Styrofoam. Environmentalism is in my consciousness and upbringing.”

Vashishtha is one of the founding members of the 2015 Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, which is a call to Hindus worldwide to “lead lives in harmony and balances with the natural world,” UCSD said.

He is also the U.C. San Diego chapter lead for Student Physicians for Social Responsibility, which seeks to highlight the medical problems caused by environmental degradation, among other topics.

Through this organization, he has lobbied in Washington, D.C. for clean power policies, the university said.

“Climate change will increase the global burden of infectious diseases such as malaria, Zika and Lyme disease,” he noted in the report. “We are also seeing changes in pollen patterns and increases in asthma diagnoses. We know that the poor and people of color will be the hardest hit. My interest in climate change is closely tied to my interest in public health and disease prevention.”

Vashishtha, upon completing his medical degree, plans to begin a three-year residency in family medicine. His goal is to eventually run for public office, he said.

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