Natalie Ramsey: A Quiet Force, Working for Diversity and Equity
“Some days she has no idea how she’ll do it. But every single day, it still gets done.” reads the lock screen of Natalie Ramsey’s cell phone.
A member of the class of 2021, Natalie has exemplified that quote throughout her eight years as an M.D./Ph.D. student at Einstein. On one hectic afternoon typical of her schedule, she squeezed in lunch at the Einstein Café after researching infectious diseases in Dr. Betsy Herold’s lab and before attending a screening and panel discussion of the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, hosted by the Einstein chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA).
Natalie’s involvement in the SNMA began as a first-year medical student. Over time, she took on leadership roles at the chapter and regional levels and, ultimately, was appointed to serve as national co-chair of the organization’s diversity research committee, which sought to increase support for underrepresented minority premedical and medical students interested in biomedical research. In that role, she also organized events nationwide from a research forum in New Orleans to a research symposium at a national conference in San Francisco.
Throughout her time at Einstein Natalie has been driven to help others follow in her path. Although a self-described “introvert,” she believes it’s vitally important to expose underrepresented minority students nationally to the study of medicine, and to inform them about careers in research. She put that goal into action, volunteering at the office of diversity enhancement whenever an undergrad wanted to talk to or shadow someone at Einstein for a day.
“There’s a degree of privilege that comes with being a physician and a physician-researcher, and I take that as a responsibility to work toward empowering others and achieving health equity,” she said.
Early Awareness of Healthcare Inequity
Natalie grew up in Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighborhood. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a respiratory therapist; both are now retired. Natalie and her older sister sometimes accompanied their mother on home visits, where they saw firsthand how income affected access to healthcare.
“At an early age, seeing how different people were suffering with chronic diseases, even just blocks away from where we lived, gave me insight into health disparities based on income,” she said.
Her awareness of the injustices that exist in education and in healthcare was heightened while an undergraduate at Howard University. “Howard educated me about what justice can look like. It further sparked my interest in health disparities and how that manifests for the most marginalized, disenfranchised among us.” It also led to her interest in coming to Einstein, “where I could meet and work with people from different backgrounds and form a good foundation for my career going forward.”
Realizing Research Was a Good Fit
Before attending Howard, Natalie went to the Bronx High School of Science, through which she was able to attend the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science summer research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the experience there opened her eyes to the possibility of a career in medicine and research.
“It was really empowering to see that science was an option for me.”
Between studying biology at Howard University in Washington, DC, and starting at Einstein, Natalie worked conducting clinical research at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. At Einstein, her thesis work examined the effectiveness of a herpes simplex vaccine on mice as it pertained to ocular herpes. Her research let her be a detective and also to work toward health equity as herpes causes significant morbidity globally and is the leading cause of infected blindness worldwide.
“Research can help us improve our understanding of disease and advance medicine in a way that betters everyone and can help, on a populations level, groups that have been marginalized,” she said.
A Pandemic Offers Insight
March 10 is Natalie’s birthday. Just before that day in 2020 she, her sister, and some friends went out to celebrate. Days later, several of them tested positive for COVID-19, just as Governor Andrew Cuomo called on New Yorkers to stay put to avoid coming in contact with the deadly virus.
Natalie’s parents also tested positive. In late March, her grandmother—the matriarch of her family, who was receiving home care—passed away while other family members were in quarantine. Then, her father’s condition worsened, requiring him to be hospitalized.
Fortunately, Natalie’s sister was a pediatric allergy fellow at Mount Sinai and was able to have Mr. Ramsey admitted there after five days at a Brooklyn-based hospital. While Natalie couldn’t see her father, it was helpful to know her sister could. (Thankfully, he has recovered and is doing well.)
“It was a stressful period for everyone,” she said. “The whole experience reminded me how much our emotional and mental well-being impact our overall health. It also reinforced my interest in psychiatry.”
Natalie’s third-year clerkship experiences had begun with a rotation in psychiatry. “I really enjoyed it, the patients, and the faculty, and it was an exciting way to get back into the clinical realm,” she said. “You see the big picture and the small picture, and the one-on-one work with patients in the emergency department, outpatient clinic, and consulting on inpatient medicine floors was great re-entry for me. I connected to them and their personal narratives.”
Having watched Natalie progress from first-year to graduate, Madeline Ebanks, the senior secretary at Einstein’s office of diversity enhancement, observed: “She has a very calming, soothing, yet steady type of personality. She’s the kind of person who can speak loudly without elevating her voice.”
Still, Natalie came to her decision to pursue psychiatry after much deliberation. She previously thought she would consider obstetrics-gynecology due to her interest in women’s health and issues. But following graduation, she will begin her residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Medical Center (NYP-Columbia) where she hopes to focus on women’s mental health and childhood trauma in her clinical and research work.
Continuing to Advocate Against Inequities
During her psychiatry clerkship Natalie observed “inequities in healthcare are pervasive across all medical disciplines.” Her future plans include continuing efforts to dismantle systemic racism and eliminate disparities that persist in her chosen field.
Her work with SNMA was a springboard for other important activism. Among these, she is a founding executive board member of Einstein’s White Coats for Black Lives and, with classmate Elise Mike (also class of ’21), served on the Black Men in Medicine task force in New York City, hoping to address the dearth of Black men in the field. She teamed with fellow Einstein students to advocate for curriculum reform and more diverse representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color among the student body and faculty, and she served as a small-group facilitator at orientation discussing the concept of anti-racism.
“Natalie is brilliant and caring, and her dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Einstein has been incredible, in particular to the students with whom she has advised and encouraged to pursue their dreams of a career in science or medicine,” noted Dr. Irene Blanco, associate dean for diversity enhancement. “She is part of a core group of passionate students that has made an enormous impact on campus.”
Natalie now takes her can-do approach to NYP-Columbia, where she will no doubt find ways to “get it done.” And, if she needs to, she can take inspiration from words on her computer’s screen saver, where words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow remind her:
“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
Posted on: Wednesday, May 26, 2021