The Future of Asian American Healthcare

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Kalpana Balaraman spent this spring and summer in a research immersion with Stanford’s Center for Asian Health Research and Education, learning about disparities in Asian healthcare. Kalpana is a Master’s student studying linguistics and is on the pre-med track, and she also studied neuroscience in undergrad.

It’s safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other. In mid-March, our world was changed indefinitely, and I, like many other college students, was left worrying about the state of my summer internship and what its potential cancellation could possibly mean for my future career plans. However, just a few weeks after I had moved out of New Orleans and returned back home, I received an email saying that the program would still happen – albeit in a virtual format. Moreover, instead of the original 10-week format starting at the beginning of June, we would start with a weekly “Thursday Speaker Series” in early April, giving us some time to get to know each other and prep for the true research immersion ahead.

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity of participating in the Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education’s Summer Research Immersion (CARE-SRI). This 10-week course was meant to strengthen our 20-student cohort’s skills in global health, vulnerable populations, AI, data science, and medical research – to prepare the next generation of innovators in Asian American healthcare. In the end, however, it did so much more.

Most of our student cohort, joined by our Program Director (Dr. Srinivasan, top left) and Implementation Fellows, engaging in some shenanigans. Self-health and wellness was a big part of the program, and so we tried to incorporate fun activities and Zoom breaks throughout each day.

For whatever would be lost by our inability to meet in person, the CARE-SRI team compensated for it tenfold, with a variety of different team-building exercises and methods to enhance communication. Our first two months of “Thursday Speaker Series” set the stage for what we would expected of us over the summer. We started with a quick rundown of how to showcase our best selves on camera with a world-renowned photographer, which we were expected to put into effect immediately. From then on, and throughout the summer, we had countless thought-provoking encounters and opportunities for collaboration, including attending weekly Grand Rounds, observing a panel discussion on the WHO and its situation with the United States, and listening to a Fireside Chat between Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Dean of the Stanford Medical School, Dr. Lloyd Minor.

The other aspect of the summer came in learning about healthcare research, starting with an intensive two-week bootcamp and sprinting on to get our projects done. Our activities during this time – made to initiate critical thinking – consisted of journal clubs, a med school-level epidemiology class, design thinking workshops, and so much more. The tangible products of our summer came in the form of two research projects. My team and I worked on Mental Distress and Mental Health Service Utilization in Asian Americans, as well as different aspects of the Diabetes Prevalence, Care, and Control Spectrum in China between 2011 and 2015. After being assigned to our respective mentors, we dove directly into understanding the different components of a research project and to start building our research question. It was a great immersion in understanding the struggles of research, such as being limited by the information collected by your particular database. Over the course of the summer, we worked steadily on each aspect of the project, whether it was adjusting our analysis, altering our interpretation of the results, or editing the actual writing of our journal article.

The program came to an end with our Summer Research Symposium on August 14th, where we presented both of our research projects to Stanford faculty, our families, and our friends, in addition to having a number of exceptional keynote speakers. The day-long event itself was bittersweet, joyous as a commemoration of our work but also highlighted by a set of tearful goodbyes. However, it’s not truly over until it’s actually over, and so these projects will not be considered complete until at least two papers are published. As of September, we still meet at least once a week to ensure we can get these papers done.

Me presenting the introduction/background to our Chinese diabetes projects at the Final Symposium.

All in all, this was one of the most rewarding experiences in my budding academic and medical journey. While I have been eternally grateful to have been previously exposed to healthcare in Hawaii, branching out into the large Stanford network has truly opened my eyes to the diversity and innovation present in healthcare. I have never worked with such an efficient and skilled team before, and I can’t wait to see what fields my fellow researchers will move into. I am incredibly proud to have been a member of the Pac Pals – our three-person superstar team that spanned 19 hours of time differences (Japan, Hawaii, and California) – and I can’t wait to continue collaborating with them to improve healthcare for everyone. But most importantly, I can’t wait to finally meet my teammates in person and hug them for the first time.

The Pac Pals, consisting of Shozen Dan (Keio University, UC Davis), myself, and Nicholas Ortega (UCLA)

This program would not have been possible without the wonderful faculty at CARE, especially Dr. Srinivasan and Dr. Palaniappan, who worked tirelessly to provide us with the best possible resources for a successful summer. Many thanks to Nora Sharp, the program TA and administrator, and our Implementation Fellows (Jaiveer, Sid, and Tim – a Tulane ’20 grad) for coordinating everything and for assisting us with our education this summer. Thank you to the countless mentors, both at Stanford and from around the world, who took time out of their schedules to share their insights with us. Much aloha to my parents for supporting me throughout my entire 5-month stay back at home and for helping me deal with shifting my biological clock to California time for the entire summer. And finally, I can’t talk about this experience without expressing my gratitude for the Taylor Center, who generously bestowed me with a Changemaker Catalyst Award and partially financed me in this endeavor.

If you’re an aspiring researcher in any field and curious about Asian American healthcare, feel free to contact me at for more information about the program.