UCSF medical student honored with prestigious U.S. Public Health Service Award

Tara Benesch medical student

Tara Benesch medical student

May 2, 2018

UCSF medical student Tara Benesch (MS3) has received a 2018 U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award in recognition of her commitment to advocacy, education, and service for marginalized and underserved populations, and leadership in policy change in public health.

The national award is given to medical students who are public health champions advancing the U.S. Public Health Service mission to “protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation” and who are helping address public health issues in their community. Since 2012, the Excellence in Public Health Award has been given by the USPHS to visionary medical students nationally who are advancing initiatives to improve social justice.

“We are proud to present this award to Ms. Benesch.  Through her advocacy for marginalized and underserved communities, she has shown a commitment to the Public Health Service mission to protect, promote and advance the health and safety of the nation,” said Brad Austin, MPH, FACHE Captain, U.S. Public Health Service Acting Regional Health Administrator.
Benesch has a generous and sustained history of leadership and involvement in mentorship, advocacy, education, service, activism, and intervention for underserved communities, and promoting diversity.

“I would like to dedicate this award to the inspiring individuals and communities I’ve worked with over the past four years – people who have welcomed me into their worlds, shared their stories, and trusted me as a teammate, an advocate, and an ally,” said Benesch.  “Our collaborations remind me of the power of compassion, unconditional inclusion, and a shared vision in setting the stage for incredible progress. At a time where inequities seem to be ever more pronounced, I am grateful for work that illustrates each person’s health is tied to the health of their entire community. That is what motivates me to relentlessly pursue a more inclusive, equitable healthcare system that meets the needs of everyone involved.”

Currently a fourth-year medical student in the Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved (PRIME-US), Benesch matriculated into the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program (JMP) in June 2014. As part of her Master of Science research, she worked with the Berkeley Food Institute to conduct a qualitative evaluation of the City of Berkeley’s Measure D (Soda Tax). She also worked with the consumer advocacy group, El Poder del Consumidor, conducting focus groups to inform national health campaigns against sugary beverages.

Benesch published her research in this area in the Journal of Family Medicine and Community Health and presented at national and international meetings. Benesch participated in the Model Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital Program in which students provide clinical care for San Francisco's underserved population. 

This work builds upon her leadership, service, education, and advocacy activities: she co-founded Students Towards Racial Justice, Inclusivity and Equity (STRIDE), a group to support underrepresented students in medicine and address inequities in the healthcare system; she was one of the first Summer Urban Health Leadership Academy fellows, selected to develop a curriculum to mentor high school students interested in healthcare careers, and; she was one of 36 LGBTQ students selected nationally to be awarded the Walter Decker Point Scholarship to complete a service project benefiting the LGBTQI community.

Benesch also spearheaded the development of nine trainings on transgender health for medical providers at the UC Berkeley Suitcase Clinic & Berkeley Free Clinic: this work was recognized with a Chancellor’s Community Partnership Grant, and the 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Public Service.

“Tara is a courageous and creative leader who truly embodies the mission of PRIME-US and the US Public Health Service to improve the public’s health. Her compassion and unfailing dedication to social justice are manifest in all of her efforts. Tara utilizes her considerable skills as an educator, researcher, and clinician to amplify the voices and wisdom of marginalized community members and advance health equity,” said Leigh Kimberg, MD, UCSF Professor of Medicine and Program Director of PRIME-US. “She embodies the character, achievements, direction, and ability to motivate and organize others that exemplifies excellence in public health.”