Sidra Bonner, MD ’18 : A surgeon with a difference
Sidra Bonner, MD ’18, always intended to be more than just an exemplary surgeon. As a second-year resident in general surgery at the University of Michigan, she is not only honing her skills in pediatric surgery but building out her research focus on questions of health equity and infant mortality.
“The mortality rate for black infants in Detroit in 2016 (12.7 in 1,000 births) was the same as that of white infants in 1973,” she notes. “When you think about all the advances in neonatal critical care and surgical techniques over the past four decades, how is it possible that certain populations like these have been significantly left behind?”
The opportunity to investigate these difficult questions and to interact with colleagues in the fields of health service, health policy, and public health is what drew Bonner to the University of Michigan program. “There is such a focus here on health equity and the broad range of factors that influence health outcomes,” she says. “This is similar to the environment I found at UCSF, which allowed me to start to engage with these questions.”
Bonner has long been interested in the social, population, and public health factors that influence health. She majored in biology and society at Cornell University and then spent a year as a Community HealthCorps navigator at the federally qualified Salud Family Health Centers in Colorado. There, Bonner worked primarily with patients who were overwhelmingly uninsured or on Medicaid and at a high risk for hospital readmission. This unique experience fundamentally influenced her medical school applications and heightened her interest in UCSF’s Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved (PRIME-US).
“I was immediately drawn to PRIME’s emphasis on preparing physicians of various specialties to care for vulnerable populations,” Bonner notes. “Add that to UCSF’s track record of excellence in clinical practice, focus on population health, and education around health care access for marginalized groups, and I knew that was where I wanted to be for my medical education.”
UCSF surrounded Bonner with equally passionate peers: students who also were intent on making health care accessible for all and were fully invested in issues of health equity. As a second-year medical student, Bonner became a founding member of White Coats for Black Lives, which has since grown into a national movement. She helped organize the first “die-in” peaceful protest in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the national Black Lives Matter movement. The group’s work inspired UCSF leaders to address racism head-on in their 2016 leadership retreat and renewed a much-needed dialogue on the UCSF campus.
“We felt empowered to think about structural racism and its impact in the health care setting and on the health of our communities,” Bonner says. “I was so fortunate to be part of a really passionate group of students and peers who were given the tools and skills to organize and lead such an important movement, and to extend UCSF’s legacy of activism in this way.”
Bonner also acknowledges that her UCSF training prepared her to pursue a somewhat unique career path combining surgery, public health, and advocacy. Family medicine and primary care are perhaps more common fields from which to address issues of health equity, but Bonner sought out and learned from UCSF mentors who demonstrated that a career in surgery could be compatible with her passion for public health and policy.
“I followed Nancy Ascher, MD, PhD, professor of surgery, and her conversations on health equity in transplant surgery,” Bonner recalls. “And I studied UCSF trauma surgeon Andre Campbell, MD, and his commitment to identifying and addressing root causes of gun violence and trauma. These individuals and their experiences indicated that I too could marry my interests of surgery and public health.”
Bonner is humbled by the Campaign Alumni Award and proud to be recognized by a community of people that she respects so highly. “I feel incredibly grateful for the amazing peers and mentors I had at UCSF, people with clear passions who think critically about how we make medicine and medical care accessible and populations healthier,” she says. “My time at UCSF will remain one of the most significant periods of my life and will always influence how I treat my patients.”
Sidra Bonner won a 2020 UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Pathfinders” category. The award honors alumni who have graduated or completed training within the last 10 years. The Pathfinders are relentless in their pursuit of new ideas that push the boundaries of science and health care.