Cheryl Chun, MA, MS


Cheryl Chun’s path to medical school began in a high school math classroom.

Teaching in DC public schools taught Cheryl Chun a lot. She learned some of her best students missed class waiting in line at free clinics to translate for a sick parent, or staying up all night in an emergency waiting room. Cheryl found students’ lack of health care access hurt their education. So when she decided to become a physician in underserved communities—Cheryl chose the Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College, where social scientists, policy experts and medical professionals work together to create health equity.

“I had students who wanted to be in class but the realities of their lives just got in the way.” Chun explained.  Watching her students struggle with access to good health and the struggle around social conditions that restricted their educational access convinced Chun, 28, to return to school to become a physician and practice in a medically underserved area.

Chun decided that attending to patients’ medical conditions without factoring in other circumstances that influenced those conditions wasn’t enough.  Like the many dynamics that impacted on students’ ability to learn in the classroom, she insists that health access, health care and health outcomes are also influenced by a wide range of external conditions. I imagine my future to be practicing medicine, but also, as a clinician, I want to use my practice to favorably impact on the community,” Chun said.

She applied to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College, believing that no matter what specialty she selected or where she ended up practicing, having a broader and more in-depth knowledge of health policy would help her be a better advocate for her patients.

Meharry Health Policy Center Director Daniel Howard says the Center subscribes to the belief that health care does not operate in a vacuum but is directly shaped by a host of social conditions. Howard adds, “We’re bringing scholars together to work on health policy solutions across platforms, from sociology, economics and political science. Because that’s the only way we’ll achieve real health equity. We need experts who understand how social determinants like poverty, violence and illiteracy can shape health outcomes.”

Chun credits the Health Policy Scholars program with giving her a more confident voice in the health policy debate.  Her externship included a two-month assignment at the Institute of Medicine where she researched obesity interventions, as support for ongoing obesity studies and projects. While there, she had the chance to work on a consensus report on obesity prevention recommendations.

“I was given the opportunity to explore a fuller range of health policy.” Chun credits the National Scholars Seminar lectures at the Center for Health Policy at Meharry and her externship at the Institute of Medicine with giving her the confidence and skills to engage in the health policy debate.

Chun will complete her Health Policy Certificate program this spring, and will graduate from Meharry Medical College in 2014.

Howard affirms the importance of educating and training health policy professionals. “Every project we have underway is designed to go beyond what we accomplish in the classroom and develop the next generation of African American, Latino and other diverse health policy researchers who will explore new areas as they relate to disparities and improving health and health care in underserved communities.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College works to increase the diversity of health policy leaders in the social, behavioral, and health sciences, particularly sociology, economics, and political science, who will one day influence health policy at the national level.