Three Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine students selected as Slemenda Scholars will spend the summer working alongside Kenyan medical students as part of the AMPATH partnership in western Kenya.
Students Micaela Gaviola, Destiny Resner and Marissa Vander Missen will learn about every facet of AMPATH Kenya’s programs and complete a scholarly research project with a faculty mentor during their 10-week summer experience. AMPATH, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, is a partnership between academic health centers to deliver health care, train the next generation of health care providers and conduct research to improve lives around the world.
“The remarkable opportunity for IU School of Medicine students to be immersed in the AMPATH partnership so early in medical training has shaped the careers of many past Slemenda Scholars,” said Debra Litzelman, MA, MD, MACP, director of education for the IU Center for Global Health. “The experience of living and learning in Kenya demonstrates the importance of cultural humility and ultimately makes the students more attuned to the issues of health inequity wherever they eventually practice,” she continued.
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 after completing his MPH in health services administration. Dr. Slemenda planned to spend significant time in Kenya once his children grew older but passed away suddenly in 1997. The award in his name pays for travel, room and board and a small stipend for the students to participate in the partnership.
For Gaviola, the selection as a Slemenda Scholar allows her to reconnect with a prior research experience as an IUPUI undergraduate research assistant for Dr. Mary Ott at IU School of Medicine. Gaviola participated in several projects analyzing sex education programs in rural communities in Indiana, as well as a project with AMPATH’s Rafiki Adolescent Clinic in Kenya. “The Slemenda Scholar experience will allow me to keep improving my ability to discover tailored, evidence-based solutions for the communities I hope to work with in the future,” she said. “My goal is to become a physician who works with underserved populations both locally and globally. Specifically, it is my dream to develop a health system that could provide medical care to rural areas back home in the Philippines.”
“In the Philippines, it is customary to call everyone Tita (aunt), Tito (uncle), Kuya (big brother), Ate (big sister), Lolo (grandpa) or Lola (grandpa), even if you are not related by blood,” said Gaviola. “Because I was lucky enough to be raised in a culture that treats everyone as kapamilya (family), I always felt like I belonged to a community. This sense of familiarity is what binds a community together. And when you start recognizing everyone as family - recognizing that everyone belongs - you see the importance of protecting the inherent dignity of others,” she continued.
Resner, an IU-Bloomington alumna, was a United States Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa, for 20 months prior to medical school. In her Peace Corps role as a maternal and child health educator, she created relationships and projects focused on building the capacity of community members and developed a strong understanding of the Guinean health system and cultural norms. Working with local colleagues, she conducted a community level needs assessment and used the results to guide the initiative. The experience nurtured her interest in maternal and child health and their intersection with global and public health, and also demonstrated the unique challenges of medicine in a low-resource setting.
“Throughout my career, I hope to maintain a community-oriented practice that advances health equity through direct service and advocacy, engage in health education as preventative healthcare, and learn and practice evidence-based clinical skills that meet the specific health needs of the people I serve—both at home and abroad,” said Resner.
Vander Missen recognized the importance of local leadership and sustainability, foundations of the AMPATH model, during two different international experiences in Honduras. The first was a short-term, North American initiated annual travel clinic and the second a permanent, locally led effort. “The significant role of collaboration in global health work was evident when comparing the two experiences and deepened my interest in the field. The Slemenda Scholars opportunity will enable me to learn from Moi University students and physicians and IU physicians about AMPATH Kenya's sustainable, collaborative methods for improving health of people in underserved communities,” she said. “Listening to people's needs and communicating are two personal strengths I strive to leverage in global health work.” Her international experience also includes mental health research in Nepal.
While a student at the University of Notre Dame, she conducted research on community health and health equity. She researched the healthcare needs of youth experiencing homelessness or unstable housing and cancer prognosis related to adverse childhood experiences. Vander Missen also worked in a psychology lab with research focused on depression and anxiety and volunteered with a free-pick urban farm with a mission to improve the health of people facing food insecurity including those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
Over the past 30 years, 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 peers in North America. An educational endowment to fund exchange opportunities for Kenyan and IU 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 AMPATH 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 IU School of Medicine and director of the IU Center for Global Health prior to retiring from IU in 2020.
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.
Assistant Director of Communications
As assistant director of communications 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.