Neal Patel is a second year medical student at IU School of Medicine. He was one of three students selected by the IU Center for Global Health as a 2021 Slemenda Scholar for the AMPATH Kenya partnership. Patel shares how this summer’s experience was uniquely impacted by COVID-19.
When I first sat down to write this blog post I was pretty sure that I knew what I wanted to say. Then I put my fingers to the keyboard and realized that it would be extremely difficult to summarize these past few months in a couple of paragraphs.
To me, this summer was a rollercoaster of ups and downs that culminated into an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. It started as all great experiences do, with uncertainty and confusion. The other Slemenda Scholars and I were supposed to travel to Eldoret, Kenya, over the summer. We had no idea what the COVID situation would become in June or July so we patiently waited for the all clear to go or the unfortunate call to stay. In the meantime the program directors, especially Dr. Jenny Baenziger, worked to make sure that we were informed and preparing for summer.
We had multiple discussions with IU physicians serving as AMPATH leaders in Kenya about research projects that were ongoing or about to start. I immediately gravitated toward a project described by Dr. Matthew Turissini. The project involved the construction of an outpatient center for patients with mental health conditions who could learn vocational skills and independence skills while getting their lives back on track in recovery. I immediately hopped onto the project, still unsure which country would be my summer home.
And then the hammer finally dropped and a spike in COVID in Kenya resulted in an exotic Indiana summer. At first I was apprehensive as to how I would be able to do research and work with the Kenyan team that Dr. Turissini introduced me to through such a large distance and time barrier. Throughout the summer I found that the team was very flexible with my time. While I did have some 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. meetings (and I am not a morning person by any means), I was always in the loop and able to be present. Dr. Turissini did a great job at keeping me on track and also being flexible with unexpected situations that arose.
Most of the work that I did over the summer was with the outpatient home (the MTRH Nawiri Recovery and Skills Centre) and helping look at curriculum creation for the home. I helped with a literature review and recommendations for the implementation of Illness Management and Recovery in an outpatient group setting. While working on this, I also helped with the creation of standard operating procedures for other projects, including a physician mentorship program and a substance use disorder recovery program. These projects allowed me to interact with Kenyan physicians and learn more about the implementation of programs in a context much different than our own here in the US.
While doing research, the Slemendas also engaged in global health seminars led by Dr. Dan Guiles and I valued these the most of my summer experiences. Learning from physicians that have been in the global health field and practiced in the way I want to in the future has been infinitely valuable to me. We even had the chance to meet Dr. Joe Mamlin who was a founder of AMPATH. We learned about global health ethics, the history of AMPATH and other global health foundations, and most importantly about cultural humility. We missed out on the chance to meet our peers in Kenya but learned an infinite amount from our mentors. This is knowledge I will keep with me moving forward.
As the son of immigrants and a part of a family with members on four different continents, I value global health highly and want to incorporate some aspect of global health into my future career. I have seen systems in India, England, Guatemala, the USA, and now Kenya, and have learned from every experience. This summer was particularly special because of the mentors I met along the way and the values that I learned. These experiences were potentially even more impactful than the research experience. These lessons are something that I will treasure and the rollercoaster of a summer that provided these lessons is something that I do not regret in the slightest.