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IU Med Students Selected for Global Health Opportunity

Cassandra Anderson, Joshua Matthews and Neal Patel are the 2021 Slemenda Scholars.

Cassandra Anderson, Joshua Matthews and Neal Patel are the 2021 Slemenda Scholars.

Doctors practicing in resource-limited settings domestically or globally know that flexibility and resourcefulness are job requirements. Three first-year medical students selected as 2021 Slemenda Scholars by the Indiana University (IU) Center for Global Health have the opportunity to hone those skills early.

IU School of Medicine students Cassandra Anderson, Joshua Matthews and Neal Patel may spend the summer living and working with Kenyan medical students, training at Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret, Kenya, and completing community research projects with the AMPATH partnership. Or they might complete global health learning experiences closer to home with connections forged in Kenya via Zoom. They are eager and ready for the experience either way.

As a clinical research assistant in the Riley Hospital for Children section of pediatric surgery, Anderson already collaborates with a research team at MTRH on a project comparing care of a birth defect called gastroschisis at MTRH and Riley. She looks forward to meeting the team in person if travel to Kenya is permitted this summer. “Whether or not travel will be allowed this summer, I am delighted at the opportunity to partake in the Slemenda Scholars program and learn more about the AMPATH partnership which has provided me with a unique research experience and fueled my passion for global health,” said Anderson, an IUPUI graduate who is a student at the IU School of Medicine in Fort Wayne. She also volunteers at the Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic. “During my medical career, I would ultimately love to teach and practice surgery in low-resource settings so that medical care can be made available and accessible for all people around the world,” she added.

For Matthews, the honor of being selected as a Slemenda Scholar feels surreal. As a young boy he lived near IU House, the neighborhood of homes where IU and other North American faculty leaders and visitors live while in Eldoret, for five years while his father was AMPATH’s surgery team leader. “Long before I understood the process of becoming a doctor, I remember seeing medical students from IU School of Medicine arrive in Eldoret. I remember seeing them at IU House and walking the halls of the hospital,” he recalled. A return trip in 2016 solidified his desire to pursue a career in medicine. “The opportunity to potentially return to Kenya, a country that means so much to me, and to collaborate with AMPATH, a partnership that means so much to me, is such an honor,” said the Purdue University graduate and Carmel resident. Matthews has volunteered with local hospice and food pantry organizations.

Patel views the Slemenda Scholars program as an opportunity to learn more about AMPATH’s partnership model after seeing systemic barriers to care during other international health experiences.  “The reason that I love the AMPATH program is that it looks past the basic medicine and works to build communities. I think that the key word in the mission pursued by AMPATH is sustainability. There are many programs where an individual goes in and helps out in a one-time capacity leaving the community marginally better than beforehand. Working to empower the individuals of these communities is something I want to learn how to do,” he said. Patel graduated from IU Bloomington where he was a member of Timmy Global Health and volunteer at Middle Way House and the Boys and Girls Club. Patel is an IU School of Medicine Bicentennial Scholar.

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

Dr. Slemenda spent three years in Lesotho working as a public health worker after completing his MPH in health services administration.  He lived in a rural village and trained health workers while working to improve access to care.  He went on to complete his DrPH in epidemiology and joined the faculty of IU in 1985. He was an exceptional scholar, publishing more than 75 papers in major medical journals. Dr. Slemenda passed away suddenly in 1997. Dr. Slemenda had made plans to spend significant time in Kenya 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. 

In addition to the Slemenda Scholars program, IU School of Medicine students and residents can typically complete two-month elective rotations in Kenya as well. 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 peers in North America. Although most travel is currently on hold, IU’s AMPATH faculty leaders have returned to Kenya and to work alongside their Kenyan colleagues.

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 AMAPTH 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.

Other unique global health opportunities at IU include a Global Health Residency Track available to medical residents in a variety of disciplines, monthly Global Health Research Speaker Series and AMPATH Fireside Chats, as well as Global Health Scholars Day hosted by the IU Center for Global Health on April 15th.
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.