March 27, 2015

Fellowships help UAB graduate students/spouses reach international goals

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merck 1Nate and Anna Joy Rogers in Kakamega Forest, Kenya, October 2014

Having professional experience before leaving school can help put a graduate in prime position for landing that first job. Internships are excellent training grounds, and, as two University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate students prove, fellowships are similarly valuable.

Both Anna Joy Rogers and Nate Rogers won prestigious and competitive fellowships to study and do research in Kenya. Anna Joy, an M.D./Dr.P.H. student in her second year with the UAB School of Public Health Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, was selected for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation International Clinical Research Fellowship. Nate, a fourth-year M.D. student in the UAB School of Medicine, won the Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

“We met on the first day of medical school at UAB and realized we both had a similar long-term vision of working internationally; we have the same passion for seeing developing communities get the best kind of health care they can,” Anna Joy said.

Anna Joy and Nate, married two years into medical school, sought out fellowships that would help them reach their goals. Anna Joy’s interests abroad include strengthening health care systems through research and building research capacity among local investigators, while Nate wants to focus on providing continuing medical education for local health care providers, with a goal of raising the quality of care delivered.

Anna Joy’s fellowship provided her an annual stipend, as well as travel and research support funds, while Nate received travel and living expenses. Though they received different fellowships, they were able to go to Kenya together in October 2014. Nate’s fellowship was only two months long, while Anna Joy remains in Kenya until May 2015.

”...this opportunity gave us a trajectory for how to design the rest of our careers.”

“It was important for us to have this experience because we’d never been in that sort of challenging setting together,” Anna Joy said. “It helped us determine whether or not we liked it and wanted to do it for the rest of our lives. Also, this opportunity gave us a trajectory for how to design the rest of our careers.”

Anna Joy will use her fieldwork to write a three-paper model for her dissertation. She has focused her work on HIV repeat testing among pregnant women who attend prenatal care clinics in western Kenya, trying to prevent women who are HIV-positive from transmitting HIV to their infants.

“Although Kenya has been successful in getting women to test once early on in their pregnancies, there are still women getting infected during pregnancy,” Anna Joy said. “If they’re not retested, they won’t find out and can go on to transmit to their infant not only during pregnancy but also during delivery and breastfeeding.”

During Nate’s time in Kenya, he was interested in HIV care, particularly among co-infected patients.

“I was working with HIV-positive patients who also had tuberculosis plus other co-infections,” Nate said. “The medical management of co-infected patients is much more complex, so the learning potential for me was much greater.”

Both say their experiences have been invaluable.

“As I applied to various residency programs, they saw the fellowship and knew it’s something that’s prestigious,” Nate said. “Every interview I went to brought it up. To say ‘I designed this project, went to a developing country where I implemented it and saw these results’ is something that gives you an edge over other students.”

“This fellowship has allowed me to do incredible things I would not have been able to do otherwise. It’s really opened up a lot of doors for me,” said Anna Joy, who will complete her two final years of medical school after graduating from the Dr.P.H. program.

While hiking through Kenya’s largest rainforest, Kakamega Forest, the couple serendipitously ran into two medical residents from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Little did they know that Nate would soon match into the same medical residency — a four-year combined program in internal medicine and pediatrics. Nate and Anna Joy are excited to continue pursuing their international interests through UTHSC’s medical programs abroad.

Ashley Floyd, director of the Office of National and International Fellowships and Scholarships, says a wide range of fellowships are available to graduate and undergraduate students, and can help students expand their knowledge base.

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