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IU medical students share global health aspirations

the 2020 slemenda scholars headshots

Four Indiana University School of Medicine first-year students selected as Slemenda Scholars for the AMPATH partnership in Kenya bring diverse global health experiences and aspirations to the role.

Faculty members from the IU Center for Global Health selected students Mary Ann Etling, Matt Hodges, Melanie Scheive and Dean Springer to serve as this year’s class of Slemenda Scholars. Typically, selected students spend the summer living and working with Kenyan medical students, training at Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and completing community projects as part of the 30-year AMPATH (Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare) partnership in Eldoret, Kenya. Due to the coronavirus travel restrictions, this year’s class will participate in alternative global health learning experiences this summer but will have priority to participate in the AMPATH program in the future.

The Slemenda Scholars program began in 1998 and honors late IU faculty member Charles Slemenda, DrPH, who had a passion for international medical education.

Dr. Slemenda spent three years in Lesotho working as a public health worker with the Mennonite Central Committee after completing his MPH in health services administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He lived in a rural village and trained health workers while working to improve access to care. He went on to complete his DrPH is epidemiology and joined the faculty of IU in 1985. Dr. Slemenda was an exceptional scholar, publishing more than 75 papers in major medical journals on osteoporosis and the effects of hormone changes on bone mass. In 1997, three days after returning from a research trip to China, Dr. Slemenda passed away suddenly.

Though Dr. Slemenda had not been to Kenya, he had made plans to spend significant time there once his children grew older. He is warmly remembered by colleagues for his honesty, work ethic, warm sense of humor and willingness to go above and beyond to help others. The award pays for travel, room and board and a small stipend for the students to participate in the partnership that serves a population of more than 8 million people while training the next generation of health care providers and conducting research to improve lives around the world.

Etling became interested in global health as an undergraduate at DePauw University and later received the U.S. Fulbright Student Award to return to Lacor Hospital in Uganda to conduct research on the barriers experienced by children with disabilities and their caregivers. The Terre Haute native said that through this experience “I have learned that the most ethical global health partnerships are championed by local leaders, sustainable in the community, and empowering to the most vulnerable, such as the AMPATH Partnership with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. I have found that global health work requires constant listening, self-reflection, and extreme flexibility. I am excited to serve in this capacity,” she continued. Etling has also conducted research in Chile and is an active member of the IU Student Outreach Clinic.

Etling reviews health information with a patient

Three weeks in Peru as part of an immersive global health course in college left Hodges feeling both humbled and discouraged. “Concepts like community context, food insecurity, and geographic isolation that seemed so clear-cut and easy to understand in the classroom suddenly bared their teeth in the form of death and disease,” he recalled. The experience prompted the Wabash College alumnus to confront healthcare challenges in his own community as a data analyst focusing on health equity for the Montgomery County (IN) health department. He also created and implemented a free shuttle service to provide transportation to and from healthcare services for the medically underserved in the county. Hodges said “I am more certain than ever that I want to dedicate my life to providing ethical, sustainable healthcare to communities with limited resources.”

IUPUI alumna Scheive obtained a wide breadth of research experience as an undergraduate, including work in the lab of Chandy John, MD, studying the prevalence of malaria due to the plasmodium falciparum parasite in the population of Somali refugees who have resettled to Kenya. Prior to medical school, she spent two years teaching chemistry in public Baltimore high schools with students from all over the world, including countries that neighbor Kenya, such as Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Uganda. She views this as one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life thus far. Scheive was able to share her excitement about real-world applications of chemistry and support refugee students through afterschool programming to learn about college opportunities and practice English conversation skills. The opportunity to serve through the IU Student Outreach Clinic, which she supported as an undergrad as the patient registration chair, and pursue other global health opportunities drew the U.S. Air Force Second Lieutenant back to the IU School of Medicine and Indianapolis. “Local health is global health whether it be in Baltimore or Kenya. The primary reason I wanted to attend medical school is to address global health inequities,” Scheive said.

melanie scheive working in the clinic

Springer participated in a study abroad trip to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) as an IUPUI undergraduate and said he felt helpless not knowing how to help the communities that were dramatically impacted by HIV. “HIV treatment and care, specialty care for diseases like tuberculosis, and economic empowerment are all major areas of focus for the AMPATH program. As a Slemenda Scholar I can learn and develop important skills that I can use to shed that feeling of helplessness and assist someone with the issue they are facing,” Springer said. He hopes that this initial experience is followed by clinical rotations in Kenya later in his medical education.

IU School of Medicine fourth-year medical students and residents have the opportunity to travel to AMPATH for two-month elective rotations. Kenyan students also have opportunities to travel to the North American institutions that form the AMPATH consortium. During the three-decade relationship, more than 1,800 North American medical trainees have visited the AMPATH partnership in Kenya and more than 400 Kenyan trainees have learned alongside their colleagues in North America.

A number of current leaders of the AMPATH program, including interim executive field director Laura Ruhl, MD, MPH, first experienced AMPATH as students serving as a Slemenda Scholars. Additionally, recent alumni of the Slemenda program have successfully pursued participation in other prestigious national research programs. Current 4th year medical student Helen Li was selected for a Doris Duke Fellowship and 3rd year student Grant Callen was selected as a Fogarty Scholar to conduct HIV research in Eldoret. “Being selected as a Slemenda Scholar and learning from visionary global health leaders truly changed the trajectory of my life and career, as it has for so many others,” said Ruhl.

An educational endowment to fund educational opportunities for Kenyan and North American medical students has been established to honor the years of service and global impact of Bob and Lea Anne Einterz. In 1990, Bob was the first Team Leader in Kenya with Lea Anne and their young family by his side. Bob served as the first AMPATH Consortium Director, Donald E. Brown Professor of Global Health and Associate Dean for Global Health at Indiana University School of Medicine and Director of the IU Center for Global Health prior to retiring from IU in January.

Other unique global health opportunities at Indiana University include a Global Health Residency Track available to medical residents in a variety of disciplines, the monthly Global Health Research Speaker Series and Global Health Scholars Day hosted by the IU Center for Global Health on May 7th.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Author

Debbie Ungar

Communications Manager

As communications manager for the IU Center for Global Health and AMPATH, Debbie shares stories about the university's partnerships to improve health care in Kenya and around the world. Contact her at 317-278-0827 or debungar@iu.edu.