Medical students to experience health care in Kenya

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Hands-on global health opportunities and challenges await four first-year IU School of Medicine students selected to travel to the AMPATH program in western Kenya this summer.

Students Sean Buehler, Michael Harding, Bilal Jawed and Grace Rushton form this year’s class of student ambassadors, called Slemenda Scholars, who will learn about every facet of AMPATH’s programs during their 8-10 week journey. AMPATH, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, is a partnership between Kenyan and North American universities and academic medical centers working with the Kenyan government to deliver health care to a population of more than 4.5 million people, train the next generation of health care providers and conduct research to improve lives around the world.

Indiana University initiated the alliance with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and Moi University School of Medicine in Eldoret, Kenya in 1988. IU School of Medicine leads the AMPATH consortium of North American universities and has had full-time faculty in Kenya for nearly 30 years. The Slemenda Scholarship program began in 1998 and honors the late IU School of Medicine epidemiologist Charles Slemenda, DrPH, who had a passion for international medical education. It covers the students’ travel, room and board. While in Kenya, the students live and work alongside Kenyan medical students, train in medical facilities and participate in public health activities in the Kenyan community.

“The Slemenda Scholars program provides our IU medical students with a remarkable opportunity to experience medicine in a resource-limited setting very early in their medical training,” said Debra Litzelman, MA, MD, MACP, Director of Education for the IU Center for Global Health. “This has led to leadership positions in global health research or clinical care for many of our past participants,” she continued.

For two of the students, this will be a return trip to Eldoret and both credit their initial visit with shaping their interest in medicine. Buehler traveled to Eldoret in 2013 as part of a social justice program with the hope of learning about relationship and infrastructure building in Kenya. “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my brief stint at AMPATH was what ultimately convinced me to change my career plans and pursue medicine,” he said. “Since that summer, I have dreamed of returning to Eldoret to both give back to a program that gave me so much and try to examine AMPATH through a new lens so that I may apply its mission to my future work,” he continued.

Rushton visited the AMPATH partnership for the first time in 2012 as a volunteer and calls it “one of the most formative experiences of my upbringing, but maybe more importantly, one of the most formative factors in shaping my values and mission in medicine.” She further explains, “Hope is a core foundation of medicine and one that I intimately witnessed in these individuals and through this experience. These lessons and values have ultimately led me to view my place in medicine as not only a provider of care and human compassion, but as an advocate for underserved populations with a passion for global health.”

Although this will be the first visit to Kenya and the AMPATH partnership for Harding and Jawed, both have experienced the unique joys and obstacles that often accompany the practice of medicine in resource-limited countries. Harding spent a summer prior to his freshman year at Florida State University in a small town in Honduras where his family has a coffee plantation. He watched as his uncle tended to the medical needs of an entire community while charging the equivalent of $2.56 per visit. “I listened to patients’ stories, played soccer with the kids while they waited, and saw the impact of medicine on a rural community. In that humid, crowded clinic, I discovered my drive to heal and serve others,” he said.

Jawed has health experience in resource-limited settings in Peru and Uganda, as well as domestically with the Montgomery County (IN) Health Department. His experiences in Peru involved both the provision of health services as well as health education to ensure sustainability. In Uganda, he served as a research assistant in HIV and Cryptococcal meningitis. One of his tasks with the county health department involved trapping, typing and treating mosquito larvae and constructing a heat map of West Nile risk in the area. He lauded the type of long-term partnership that AMPATH has established. “While my time working in Peru and Uganda was incredibly fulfilling, I quickly realized that global health is an incredibly complex and intricate field and certainly not effortless. To achieve true, long-lasting change, a multidisciplinary understanding of the forces surrounding health is crucial,” he said.

IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the country with eight regional campuses in addition to Indianapolis. Jawed is an Indianapolis native who received his undergraduate education at Wabash College and is currently attending IU School of Medicine–Muncie. Harding is a native of Palm Harbor, Florida and attended both Florida State University and the University of South Florida. He attends IU School of Medicine–South Bend. Both Buehler and Rushton attend the IU School of Medicine–Bloomington after completing their undergraduate degrees on that campus. Rushton is from Zionsville, Indiana and Buehler hails from Carmel and is currently commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army Reserves Medical Corps.

The Slemenda Scholars program is one of the first opportunities that IU School of Medicine students have to participate in global health activities, but they have many more throughout their training. Both medical residents and fourth-year medical students may travel to AMPATH programs in Kenya for two-month elective rotations throughout the year. Kenyan students also have opportunities to travel to North American institutions. More than 1,800 North American medical trainees have visited the AMPATH partnership in Kenya and more than 400 Kenyan trainees have visited their colleagues in North America. A Global Health Residency Track is available to medical residents in a variety of disciplines and the IU Center for Global Health hosts a Global Health Scholars Day open to all members of the university community in May. IU School of Medicine’s leadership and involvement with AMPATH and other global health activities is one of the primary reasons all four students selected IU for their medical school training.

While in Kenya, the Slemenda Scholars will be writing blog posts and providing updates to AMPATH and IU School of Medicine websites. Follow their journey at www.ampathkenya.org and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@AMPATHKenya).

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