Student Aspires for Future in Global Surgery
Debbie Ungar Sep 02, 2021
Cassie Anderson is a second year student at the IU School of Medicine and was one of three students selected by the IU Center for Global Health as Slemenda Scholars in the summer of 2021. Anderson shares how the experience built on her previous research interest and impacted her view of global health.
It was the moment I had waited for. I had just flown into Kenya with my fellow Slemenda Scholars and was ready to meet our team at Moi University in Eldoret. We were heading to IU House to meet with the AMPATH leaders who would serve as our mentors. Finally, we’ll get to meet these amazing global health leaders and sit down together to talk over some of the delicious Kenyan food I’ve heard all about, I thought. I soon realized it was all just a dream. There would be no travel to Kenya this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But by staying in Indiana this summer, I learned an extremely valuable lesson during my activities as a Slemenda Scholar – global health work happens everywhere.
Two and a half years ago while I was an undergraduate student at IUPUI, I received one of the most exciting emails of my life. A pediatric surgeon at Riley Hospital for Children, Dr. Brian Gray, heard that I was interested in getting involved in clinical research and invited me to join his team. And, we were going to collaborate on a project with colleagues in Kenya! I couldn’t have been more excited to get started. It was the perfect opportunity to combine my interests in surgery and global health. The goal of this project was to compare care and outcomes of gastroschisis, a congenital abdominal wall defect, at our partner institutions in the US and Kenya. From this project, our teams sought to determine what each institution could do to improve gastroschisis care.
Having heard about AMPATH Kenya through this research experience, I was eager to learn more. As a first year student at the IU School of Medicine, I applied for the Slemenda Scholars program and was extremely honored to be selected this year. Soon enough, we were joining in Zoom meetings to talk about research project ideas and I was formally introduced to Dr. JoAnna Hunter-Squires, the surgery team leader for AMPATH. She had so many interesting project ideas, but when she mentioned one related to my previous gastroschisis research, I was quick to jump on board. Our project involved continuing work with Dr. Gray and Dr. Peter Saula, a pediatric surgeon at Moi University, to investigate feeding practices in newborns who have undergone surgical procedures.
I was soon introduced to Dr. Manisha Bhatia, a general surgery resident and global surgery fellow at Indiana University. I worked with her and our mentors to develop and distribute a survey about these feeding practices to pediatric surgeons at institutions in Indiana and Kenya. We also initiated an observational study at Riley Hospital, which provided me the opportunity to work alongside the pediatric surgery team as I collected data over the summer. I was excited to learn something new each day and hope that our projects will inform future feeding protocols, which could improve the outcomes of neonatal surgical care.
Along with completing research projects, the Slemenda Scholars had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of AMPATH to expand our knowledge of global health. I especially enjoyed our conversations with Dr. Dan Guiles, who taught us about the practice of cultural humility. In the framework of cultural humility, we recognize that there is neither one way nor one “right” way to approach a problem, but instead that each individual brings their own unique experiences and ideas to the table. This exchange leads to reciprocal innovation, which has endless applications. Dr. Debra Litzelman talked to us about how after her visits to Kenya, she applied the concept of reciprocal innovation to an initiative that has improved maternal and infant mortality in Indiana. The success of this initiative and so many others both in the US and Kenya has shown that when we are open to learning and sharing our knowledge and experiences with each other, we have the capacity to better understand the problems we want to address and acknowledge the ways we can support one another.
The AMPATH mission is something I carry close to my heart – to improve the health of people in underserved communities by leading with care. In the future, I hope to encourage broader application of the AMPATH model and its principles to developing sustainable institutional partnerships. In our discussion with Dr. Joe Mamlin, one of AMPATH’s founders, I found inspiration and hope in his idea that the principles of global health have more to do with who we are, rather than where we are. Despite not traveling to Kenya this summer, I’ve been able to internalize the principles of global health and apply them where I am. “Our mission is to be responsive to the world community,” he said, whether in our hometowns or on the other side of the world.
Currently, I hope to continue contributing to global health initiatives through my involvement in research, as a member of the Global Surgery Student Alliance, and by volunteering at a local free clinic. I’m also preparing for a future experience in Kenya by learning Swahili. Eventually, I hope to be able to say the words, “Jambo! Jina langu ni Cassie. Leo nitakuwa Daktari wako wa upasuagi." Hello! My name is Cassie. I will be your surgeon today. For now, I’d like to say “Asante sana!” Thank you very much! to the leaders of AMPATH, the IU Center for Global Health, our program leaders, and all my mentors and colleagues.
Read more about the 2021 Slemenda Scholar experience from Joshua Matthews and Neal Patel.
Photos (top to bottom): Cassie Anderson, Sarah Fisher and Dr. Brian Gray at IMPRS Research Symposium in 2019; the AMPATH surgery team in Kenya; Shoe4Africa Children's Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya.
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