Alex Kristensen-Cabrera ’16 embodies what it means to serve holistically. Her passion for intersectional health care is prevalent in not only her career as a medical student and PhD candidate in health research, policy, and administration, but also through her volunteer and advocacy work.
Incorporating the Notre Dame values of faith, social justice, and service work, Kristensen-Cabrera sought to learn more about patient-centered research and public health approaches as an undergraduate science-business major. Her interest began at the age of seven while visiting a children’s hospital in the Dominican Republic that was just a mile away from her mother’s childhood home. This was her first exposure to the lack of health care resources other people were facing.
Through the Notre Dame International Scholars Program at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, she spent her sophomore through senior years working with Dr. Vania Smith-Oka, a medical anthropologist who looks at the effects of institutions on marginalized populations, with a particular interest in maternity and motherhood. It was this research and her knowledge about the Dominican Republic that led to an International Development Studies Capstone with Dr. Smith-Oka and Dr. Eddy Pérez-Then at O&M Medical School at the Universidad Dominicana O&M, examining factors that contributed to the decreasing breastfeeding rates in the country. Based on the results, Kristensen-Cabrera and her mentors collaborated with local stakeholders to create, implement, and evaluate a community-based breastfeeding support program that improved participants’ breastfeeding practices.
Kristensen-Cabrera became a clinical research coordinator after college to pursue her interest in quality of medical care, working in both the Safety Learning Lab and the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative. In this role, she was conducting research related to obstetrics and neonatology and continued to learn about the social, economic, and other structural factors that have a very real impact on the health of her patients.
“I think it is part of my essential role as a future physician to be an advocate for all of my patients, and especially the most vulnerable, both within and beyond the walls of their clinics,” she said. “The opportunity to directly serve others through compassionate medicine, to address health care disparities, and to further explore the power of applied medical research motivates me in this career path.”
As an MD-PhD student at the University of Minnesota, Kristensen-Cabrera is particularly interested in why Black and Indigenous babies are more likely to die before their first birthday than their white counterparts, and seeks to better understand why these discrepancies exist and what can be done to address these inequities.
“Racism is the risk factor, not race,” Kristensen-Cabrera said. “I’m interested in disparities in maternal and infant birth outcomes, with a particular interest in structural racism. I’m really proud and grateful to join generations of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) scholars and community members in this work.”
Even during medical school, Kristensen-Cabrera has gone above and beyond research and into volunteerism, working as a street medic in Minneapolis and distributing masks during the pandemic with MaskUp North Minneapolis. In terms of formal advocacy work, she serves on several boards. In an effort to address structural racism more specifically, she serves as a member of the Medical Education Coalition Reform Committee at the UMN-Twin Cities Medical School, which is “collaborating with the administration to create an anti-racist curriculum, admissions, and assessment process.” As an executive board member for White Coats for Black Lives, she helped “organize, wrote content for, and spoke at the Twin Cities Health Care for Black Lives Protest” She also is a Public Health Advocacy Fellow and Board member of the bipartisan MEDPAC endorsed by the Minnesota Medical Association.
For her dedication to weaving social justice into her medical aspirations, Kristensen-Cabrera was named a 2020 Domer Dozen honoree by the Notre Dame Alumni Association and YoungND. Now entering its third year, the program seeks to honor 12 ND graduates ages 32 and younger for their contributions in the areas of faith, service, learning, and work. The YoungND Board, University officials, and Alumni Association selected Kristensen-Cabrera from a pool of more than 140 nominations.
Given her drive to serve the whole person and to understand how to address health care inequities, Kristensen-Cabrera plans to pursue perinatology and neonatology with an emphasis on providing equitable outcomes for traditionally marginalized groups, as well as public health research and advocacy.