Student Spotlight: An award for the amazing Dr. Do-Good

Mazzarelli

Mazzarelli navigates the legal and medical fields with ease.

Photo by Daniel R. Burke

Elvis Presley. John F. Kennedy. Walt Disney. Add Penn student Anthony Mazzarelli to that list.

Mazzarelli, 27, who is currently enrolled in Penn’s Master of Bioethics Program and the Law School, now has a spot next to many other prestigious Americans as a recipient of the 2002 Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA) Award. Given annually by the U.S. Junior Chamber, the honor recognizes “the best, brightest and most inspirational leaders America has to offer.”

The award praised Mazzarelli, who has an M.D. from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, for his work in the community and in medicine.

Two years ago, he and two other classmates founded Healthcare Outreach Project (HOP), a student-run clinic for Camden’s uninsured. The clinic, which has provided primary care for more than 200 patients, even runs its own pharmacy, using grant money to fund medications for patients. Specialty care is also being slowly added; just recently HOP had its first patient undergo surgery.

In setting up the free clinic and through treating patients firsthand, Mazzarelli realized that lawyers play a big role in crafting health care policy. He also saw that when it came to navigating the policy arena, physicians are often at a disadvantage.

“Lawyers have this great way of making it seem like they are the only ones that can understand or deal with the law,” he said. “If it was going to be a barrier that I was going to run into repeatedly, then I wanted to have a way to knock it down.”

Mazzarelli also saw the role of bioethics in medicine.

“A lot of people think of bioethics as someone with a black turtleneck, smoking a cigarette, sitting in a coffee shop talking about philosophy,” he said. “But we’re at a time now where bioethics is becoming a policy matter where decisions are being made.”

But Mazzarelli doesn’t see medicine as a topic restricted to academia and politics. He wants the public to take an interest in and be a part of health-care debates, which explains the two months he spent contributing story lines to and even appearing in one episode of NBC’s television drama “ER.”

“I could never get my aunt to talk about public health issues. But if Dr. Green does something to Carter [a couple of “ER” characters] and it’s the same topic, I can definitely get her to talk about it.”

Mazzarelli engages the public in health-care discussions in other ways, too. His talk radio show on WQHS, Penn’s student-run radio station, addresses events in the news as they relate to the law and medicine. And to fulfill his Law School pro bono requirement, he researches topics for Michael Smerconish’s talk radio commentary on KYW-AM and weekly opinion column in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Yet even with all these commitments, Mazzarelli said medicine will always get top priority.

“I will always see myself as a doctor,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to treat people and the patients in front of me. Going to law school, I realize that I want to treat even the patients who aren’t in front of me that need me.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Mazzarelli said winning the TOYA award has only convinced him that he still needs to accomplish much more. “It’s saying you need to commit now to living up to what this award means.”

Originally published on October 17, 2002