Geisel students receive research fellowship

by Paulomi Rao | 4/21/17 2:10am

Two Geisel School of Medicine students will serve year-long research fellowships. The Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship to conduct research in South Africa represents a lifetime of interest in international travel and global health for Geisel student Lye-Yeng Wong Med’18. For Geisel student Fernando Vazquez Med’18, his participation in Medical Research Scholars Program through the National Institutes of Health will allow him to think about medicine in a broader sense and interact with other professionals.

Wong is headed to South Africa this summer to research global health in an international setting, an important topic to Wong, who began considering a global health studies track as an undergraduate student in Texas.

While an undergraduate, Wong studied abroad multiple times and consistently felt as if she was gaining more from the local communities than she was giving back. With a specific project in mind and funding from the fellowship, Wong said she is excited to become a part of the local culture in South Africa and make a difference.

“I wanted to dedicate myself in a community and be a productive person,” she said.

In South Africa, Wong will participate in an HIV project focusing specifically on patients treated with HAART therapy. HAART therapy, also known as highly active antiretroviral therapy, is often prescribed to patients to help manage HIV’s symptoms and prevent the virus from developing resistance, Wong said.

This year, Wong has traveled across the U.S. practicing medicine in different communities. In a few weeks, she will be going to Alaska for a trauma surgery elective and family medicine course.

“Being a part of different communities has just been a part of my life ever since I was young,” Wong said.

A current Malaysian citizen on a student visa in the U.S., Wong added that an international aspect of medicine has always been “built into her life.”

Geisel director of the Center for Health Equity Lisa Adams who guided Wong throughout the application process, wrote in an email statement that she is confident the research experience Wong will gain during the program will provide her with an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

“Knowing [Wong], I suspect she will be extremely effective in her role, contributing to her clinical research project with the long-term goal of improving patient care in low and middle income countries,” Adams wrote. “I can’t wait to see what she does at the end of her fellowship year and throughout her career.”

Adams also noted that Wong’s previous experience with Geisel’s Center for Health Equity and the Dickey Center for International Understanding studying hearing loss in newborns in rural Nicaragua after her first year of medical school helped Wong launch her global health research interests and was the basis for her personal statement in her fellowship application.

“I only facilitate bringing out their strengths for these impressive achievements,” Adams wrote.

Vazquez will participate in this year’s Medical Research Scholars Program through the prestigious NIH organization in Bethesda, Maryland. Vazquez said that one of the most interesting aspects of the program is the organization’s focus on creating a larger environment to discuss medicine outside of classrooms and patient rooms.

Vazquez said he is excited to be matched with a mentor on the NIH campus. Upon arriving for the two-day interview period, each applicant was informed that if they are accepted, one of the three interviewers would serve as their primary mentor throughout the year and would help them work with faculty in their fields of interest.

“A lot of things in medicine are done without knowing why they are being done,” Vazquez said. “It’s kind of a scary thought, but if you ask a group of doctors within a particular specialty why they do a procedure the way they do it, you will get a couple of different answers.”

During a recent clinical rotation with the Geisel vascular surgery department, Vasquez said he realized that understanding why certain steps are performed is just as important as the actual procedure.

“[The doctors] are inquisitive about the way they do things and whether what they are doing is actually the best outcome for the patient,” he said. “They are constantly investigating the way they do things, and I think that adds a lot of value to your daily practice.”

Vazquez noted that it is important for doctors to be accountable and not just accept procedures for the way they are or how they were taught, but instead understand each step of their actions.

“I want to emulate that [accountability] for the rest of my career,” Vazquez said.

He added that he is also excited about the personal growth he expects to experience over the course of the next year.

“Medicine can be very isolating — everybody is obviously smart but we are good at different things individually,” Vazquez said. “Just being at the interview days and talking to applicants from across the country, it was really cool to talk about the same thing from different points of view. I think that environment is what I am looking forward to the most.”