IU School of Medicine alumni partner to improve Kenyan health system
Two graduates of IU School of Medicine, Laura Ruhl, MD, MPH, and Matt Turissini, MD, found their way to Kenya taking very different paths. The couple now works with AMPATH (Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare). AMPATH is a collaboration between Moi Univeristy, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, a consortium of North American universities led by Indiana University, and the Kenyan Government now working to build a holistic and sustainable health system in Kenya.
Ruhl considers herself a “child of AMPATH” and first visited Kenya as an undergrad and ultimately decided to attend IU School of Medicine because of the IU-Kenya program. Conversely, Turissini was a sociology and English major in college and did not decide to become a doctor until several years after completing undergrad and spending time working for a few different non-profit organizations. He calls the decision to become a doctor one of the “least-informed and better decisions” of his life.
Both Ruhl and Turissini spent time in Kenya as Slemenda scholars after their first year at IU School of Medicine. Ruhl spent additional time in Kenya as a 4th year, resident, pediatric team leader and pediatric field director. They first met when Turissini was doing pediatric HIV research between his third and fourth year of medical school. Turissini continued his work with AMPATH, tallying roughly 20 months in Kenya during medical school and his residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Duke University, a member of the AMPATH Consortium.
Their journey with AMPATH did not stop there. Ruhl now serves as the Field Director for Population Health. Turissini is AMPATH’s Medicine Team Leader as well as a co-coordinator of AMPATH’s population health work to create an accessible health care system. They have been serving in these positions since July 2017.
The partnerships that are a fundamental part of AMPATH and the great team of people in North America and Kenya are part of what makes AMPATH special to them. “The commitment of departments at IU School of Medicine to fund staff in Kenya since 1989 is really impressive in terms of commitment to that partnership. Dividends from that commitment in terms of research and education are amazing. More than 1,800 North American health care students and residents have worked at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and more than 400 Moi medical trainees have rotated to North American AMPATH institutions during that time. Without long-term people on the ground, really none of that would have happened,” Turissini explained.
Working with AMPATH in Kenya allows them both to do work about which they are passionate. Training the next generation of Kenyan providers and developing a system that allows people to receive care excites and motivates Turissini.
Ruhl is motivated to improve the quality of services and build a sustainable system that will have the resources to exist without AMPATH. “I’ve worked on many projects where I didn’t feel they would continue once my involvement ended, but in AMPATH you know that the system we are helping to build will continue to serve Kenyans for decades to come,” she continued.
For those interested in a career in global health, Turissini advises that it’s important to spend time in an area and then decide if it’s right for you, as it can be difficult to learn how to partner and work within an unfamiliar culture and system. Ruhl added, “It’s so easy to get pulled in different directions based on academic positions, so you have to keep it a priority. Although you can’t live and breathe global health during your training, you need to keep it a focus for your future.”
In addition to their roles with AMPATH, they are also parents. While Ruhl admits that they were unsure at first if raising their kids in Kenya would be a good idea, they have since thoroughly enjoyed raising their children with their Kenyan community. “We love having our family in Kenya. Our daughter goes to a Montessori pre-school with Kenyan kids and we have 8-10 other children most of the time at IU House so there is always someone to play with. Our children will grow up learning about other cultures and languages which is wonderful,” Turissini concluded.