A Conversation with Sasha Morduchowicz | See previous interviews

Sasha Morduchowicz
Program Manager, Quality and Safety 

Sasha Morduchowicz

Where were you born? Please tell me about your parents and siblings.

I was born in Montebello, a city in LA County, and grew up in the Glendale/Pasadena area. My parents met at UCLA Extension in an ESL class in the early 1980s. My dad grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina and moved to the United States to go to USC film school. My mom grew up in Japan in Kitakyushu, a city located in the Fukuoka Prefecture. Other than a few of my dad’s cousins that live in LA and Philadelphia, the rest of my extended family still lives abroad.  My younger brother just graduated from Brown with a degree in Computer Science, and he will soon be joining a start-up in Boston as a software engineer in the fall. I’m happy for him, but was crossing my fingers that he’d move to the Silicon Valley so we could spend more time together. Hopefully he’ll move out here soon.

Do you have a nickname?

I have several actually. My dad calls me Sashita, the Spanish diminutive of Sasha, but my mom calls me Sashi-bu (a combo of my first and middle name which is Oyobu). My mom named me Oyobu after her grandmother who she was very close to and adored. My friends call me “Sassy” or “Sas” for short. Andy Lai recently gave everyone in our office nicknames and decided to go with “Sasha Fierce” (Beyonce’s alter ego) for me. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’ll take it!

If you could interview your grandmother in Argentina, what would you want to know about her life and times?

I think I’d want to learn more in general about my heritage on that side of the family. I know that my ancestors on both sides of my dad’s family were Jews from Russia and Poland, but I don’t know exactly when they immigrated to Argentina. My dad’s great grandfather’s original name was Bookbinder, before he was adopted and took on the Morduchowicz name, and I’d like to learn more details about that story. Also, my dad was a teenager when the Dirty War started, and I’d be interested in asking her what it was like to raise a family in such a tumultuous political climate when a lot of people were going missing.

Sasha's grandmother

To what causes do you invest your time and energy? How do you feel those causes make your world better?

My parents raised me with really strong values of social justice, and I’ve always believed that the ability to access high quality health care is a right and not a privilege. I think that is what drew me to health care and wanting to work in quality improvement.  My commitment to improving the health care system in general is a cause and I am glad that my career is dedicated to that. Before coming to UCSF, I worked at the Safety Net Institute which served all California’s public hospitals, where most of the uninsured go for care. In that role I learned more about health disparities and the social determinants of health, and that job further fueled my passion for working in health care improvement.

I had a personal experience, as a caregiver and family member, when my dad got sick a couple of years ago. He was at four different hospitals and I was with him throughout the entire experience. The chance to have such an intimate interaction with the health care system solidified my desire to understand patient perspectives and communication during really stressful times. Terms like patient-centeredness sound like a buzzword but, going through it, you really understand what that means. He is doing better and just started culinary school which has been a long time dream of his.  He made empanadas when I visited him last weekend for the World Cup.

Are you a morning person or nocturnal? What do you do when you just can’t sleep?

Oh, definitely nocturnal. I have become more of a morning person out of necessity since I started my career in health care. I don’t have a lot of trouble falling asleep once I’m in bed, but I do have trouble forcing myself to go to bed. I try not to look at any sort of screen right before I go to sleep, especially LED backlit screens. Another technique I’ve been trying to use is meditation, but I’ve had trouble making a routine of it. My real meditation is rock-climbing. When you’re climbing tens of feet above the air, you can’t possibly think about anything other than what you’re doing at that moment. I go climbing at indoor gyms, but also love to go outdoors with friends. We usually go to the Berkeley Hills, either Cragmont or Indian Rock. It is so fun.

Sasha rock-climbing

What talents or abilities would you like that you do not now

I would like to get better at cooking, especially meat. For some reason, even though I know how important it is to not move it around too much, I have a really hard time sticking to that so it usually gets tough. I am fairly good at following recipes so I’m good at baking. I’d like to get to the point where I know enough of the basics to feel like I can be creative in the kitchen.

Which arts appeal to both your values and your sense of aesthetics?

I did a lot of performing arts growing up. I did jazz tap and singing from ages 5–18. One of my favorite types of music to sing is bossa nova. For my senior recital in high school, I sang several bossa nova songs in Portuguese with my dad as my guitarist. That experience was a really special memory for me. In college I studied Art History at NYU before I transferred to Cal and studied Public Health. I thought I wanted to be a curator so I interned at MOCA and the Getty. I really love artists like Miró, Calder, and Rothko. I think I’m drawn to art that is deceptively simple but really powerful or art that has a child-like or playful quality.

Who is a role model whose philosophy you strive to emulate?

It might be cliché, but my parents. My mom is the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She is open-minded, positive, and is an incredible listener. I’m always struck by how people she’s just met feel completely comfortable around her because she is able to put them at ease. My dad is that way, too. They value passion over ambition and have always told me to devote my career to something that makes me happy and that leaves the world a better place.

What was your last favorite book, and why?

My favorite author is Haruki Murikami. He is a modern Japanese author, and I’ve read most of his books. My favorites are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. His stories are set in modern Japan and are frequently surrealistic. I think because my mom is Japanese, there is something appealing and familiar about his characters, but they also feel very universal.

Thank you, Sasha.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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