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Healthcare, Homelessness, and Poverty in Philadelphia


As a premed student Maya Amy ’20 has spent hours immersed in science research, including a summer of teamwork with Assistant Professor of Biology Cynthia Downs and other students. That resulted in Amy being listed among the co-authors on a scholarly paper. This summer, she’s working on research that requires a new set of skills. 

Amy received a grant from Hamilton’s Emerson Foundation Scholars Program for a project born of her own interest. One of 200 Hamilton students conducting summer research or completing an internship supported by the College, Amy is examining how homelessness, poverty, and medicine intersect in Philadelphia. Her approach is to volunteer in several homeless shelters and agencies that work with the homeless and to interview people who use the services. She also will interview medical students who are volunteering at Covenant House, which a shelter for homeless youth.

About Maya Amy '20

Major: Biology

Hometown: Pottstown, Pa.

High School: Owen J. Roberts

Read about other student research

Her goal is to gain a better understanding of homeless in Philadelphia. “I basically want to be able to be ready to help people in the future when I have the ability to,” she observes.

Amy says she’s always been confused and disheartened by the disrespectful way some people talk about those who experience homelessness or poverty, and she’s drawn to medicine that pertains to vulnerable and underserved populations.

“I’m really interested in the idea of medical insecurity, which is when you’re not able to treat conditions or injuries because you lack the funds or don’t have medical insurance,” she explains. “And I’m really interested in how policy plays into this, as in, what will the government do for free? And what won’t they do for free? And basically, what kind of medical practices do they allow for people experiencing homelessness?”

It’s work that takes her out of the familiar realm of labs and scientific literature. She’s never done social science research before.

“The volunteer aspect has been great, and I love the opportunity to work with people and get the feeling that I’m doing good for the community. But I think more than anything, it has been really a learning experience, not just on the topic of homelessness in Philadelphia but also this other type of academia and the process behind it,” Amy says.

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