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Medical Student Helen Li Awarded Doris Duke Research Fellowship to Study in Eldoret

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Helen Li, a third year medical student at IUSM, first traveled to Eldoret, Kenya as a Slemenda Scholar in the summer of 2017. Slemenda Scholars participate in rounds at the hospital, work on ongoing field projects conducted by AMPATH faculty in Kenya, and build connections with Kenyan medical students during their 8 week experience in Eldoret.

Helen shared some of her most gratifying experiences in her blogs for AMPATH-Kenya, which included getting to know Kenyan medical students, learning the true meaning of the AMPATH consortium while showing a movie at the local children’s hospital, and living and learning at the medical student hostels. Upon leaving Eldoret after her Slemenda Summer, Helen recalled, “I didn’t feel sad because somehow I knew I would be back soon.”

Helen (right) and fellow 2017 Slemenda Scholars

Her prediction of going back came true, as Helen was recently awarded a Doris Duke research fellowship and will be headed back to Kenya this summer for a year to research palliative care for surgical patients. Only 18 of these research fellowships are awarded each year. She is elated to work with mentors with connections to AMPATH, including Dr. Peter Kussin from Duke University, Dr. Connie Keung and Dr. Ken Cornetta from IU, and Dr. Millicent Korir and Dr. Susan Kipsang from Moi University.

The project Helen aims to work on beginning this summer is focused around developing a trigger tool that can be used to identify surgical patients who can benefit from palliative care. Unfortunately, many patients in low and middle income countries (LMICs) do not have access to basic surgical care and they are left without care until their medical conditions have become very advanced. This makes surgical patients particularly vulnerable to high morbidity and mortality, especially in LMICs.  Currently, surgical patients in LMICs are only referred to palliative care when they are actively dying and have no other options.

Helen, however, believes that palliative care can be an important tool for improving the lives of patients and stated, “Though many people believe palliative care is ‘giving up’ on the patient, it actually is associated with far more than end-of-life care. It involves pain and symptom management, emotional and spiritual support for both the patient and the family, and it seeks to identify the goals and hopes of the patient for his own medical treatment.”

Helen and colleagues in Eldoret

By catching patients that can benefit from palliative care early, doctors can help patients manage their pain and even improve the prognosis of some patients. Helen and her mentors hope to eventually develop a tool to “encourage the collaboration of palliative care with surgery, but also help to give surgeons an added perspective in the treatment of patients in the future.”

During her time in Kenya last summer, Helen was truly inspired, “Even when things seemed impossible, I found myself surrounded by people who truly believed and cared about this cause.” She is excited to embark on this ambitious project and return to Kenya to continue to be surrounded by people that believe and care about ameliorating global health disparities.

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.

Rabiah Amjad

Rabiah Amjad is an undergraduate student at IUPUI and an intern at the IU Center for Global Health.