Dr. Chana Sacks
December 13, 2023

Finding her path

Dr. Chana Sacks ’03 shares PA experience
by Allyson Irish

The co-founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital Gun Violence Prevention Center, Dr. Chana Sacks '03 works to help reduce firearms-related injuries and deaths through medical care, education, and community engagement. She and her colleagues also highlight the longterm trauma of gun violence, which impacts not only the victim but also families and communities.

Below, Sacks shares with Andover magazine her path to Phillips Academy, her family connections to PA, and what she hopes for students today.

How did you make your way to Andover?

I was born in New York, but I grew up in Central Florida. Part way through high school, I was looking for a change. My uncle, David Othmer ’59, suggested I take a look at Andover. I ended up coming as a new upper.

What was your PA experience?

I lived in Stevens in the Pine Knoll Cluster. Some of my closest, lifelong friends are from high school, like Ali Rosen [Gourvitch] ‘03, Alex Hammer ‘03, Erin O’Hern '03, and Laura Schoenherr '04. I had a great relationship with Betsy Korn—Laura’s mom!—who was my house counselor.

I was also a coxswain on the crew team, so I spent most of my time on the Merrimack River. Ali Rosen and I were in a play together, Sartre’s No Exit. I found Andover challenging and eye-opening.

Chana Sacks '03 and her brother Zev '20, both wearing their PA crew jackets.
Your brother also graduated from Andover. How was his experience similar to or different from yours?

My youngest brother, Zev, was born at the beginning of my senior year at Andover. Ms. Korn and the Stevens dorm threw me a sister baby shower! After I graduated, I honestly was not connected to the Andover alumni network and hadn’t been back to campus much.

But then Zev went to Andover, so I had the chance to re-experience it. He doesn’t let me forget that he was a four-year student, unlike me!

Both of us were on the crew team—and we have matching jackets. Zev also was into music and is a tuba player. So I went from not being all that involved to coming back to campus all the time to go to crew races and to the chapel for concerts. Now Zev is a senior at UMass Amherst, and he is an orchestral tuba player. I get to go to a lot of tuba concerts.

Do you feel a connection to any of the Andover mottoes or values?

On my revisit day, before I even was a student, I heard Head of School Barbara Chase say that “knowledge without goodness is dangerous.” I still think about that idea all the time. That’s what I try to do as a doctor and health policy researcher. I ask myself, “How do you generate new knowledge fused with the drive every day to try to do some good?”

When I was in medical training saying that I was going to create an academic research career in gun violence prevention, many of my mentors were not necessarily jumping for joy. It was seen as a controversial path, with no clear way to obtain federal research funding. But it also became obvious to me that I had been given so many opportunities: attending Andover, then Georgetown for college, then the University of Chicago for medical school. And today I'm sitting here in the Harvard Medical School system at Mass General Hospital. If there is a massive problem that needs to be solved—one that I believe is solvable—then I should try to do something about it.

Do you have any advice for Andover students today?

External validation can be attractive to chase, whether it’s straight 6s—which I certainly never achieved—or so many other forms of recognition. But that is not what matters most. As you get to know yourself better, you will recognize that you really do have the ability to change things and to make things better. Figuring out your pathway takes time—it did for me—and that’s okay.

Created by students at Emerson College in the program Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence, the documentary "Quiet Rooms" shares the trauma left behind from gun violence.

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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