Class Acts: The champions for health equity | The Source
This week, Class Acts celebrates graduates working for health equality around the world, in their neighborhoods and in exam rooms. Meet Gautam Adusumilli and Cory French, MDs from the School of Medicine, and Keishi Foecke, who is expected to earn a bachelor’s degree in Arts & Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis.
Gautam Adusumilli, co-founder of Empower Through Health, aims to improve access to diagnostic imaging. (Courtesy photo)
In the name of medicine, Gautam Adusumilli learned to ride a motorcycle during the pandemic. He believes the skills are essential to become a radiologist and researcher in remote areas of developing countries.
“My passion is global health,” said Adusumilli. “Almost everything I do – even when I take up a new hobby like motorcycling – relates to my interest in improving access to health care and reducing the gaps between marginalized, poverty-stricken communities.”
His decision to apply for a residence permit specializing in diagnostic radiology also reflects this interest.
“I took advantage of the solitude of the pandemic to explore ways to integrate radiology into my global health ambitions,” said Adusumilli. “Radiology is a relatively untapped specialty in the global arena. This is partly due to the logistical incompatibility of imaging technology with low-resource environments – but this is beginning to change. I believe diagnostic imaging should be a medical priority in developing countries. Without an ultrasound, how does a midwife in Uganda know that a pregnant woman about to give birth has placenta previa? How does a teenager who is struggling to ride a bike to school know that their struggle stems from chronic rheumatic heart disease? “
In June, Adusumilli will begin residency training with a preliminary focus on surgery in the Stanford University hospital system, followed by radiology training at Massachusetts General Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University.
After the start, however, Adusumilli will travel to Uganda, where he and his classmate Yang Jae Lee founded a non-governmental organization. Empower Through Health operates a health center, drives public health and provides college students with leadership and research opportunities.
“One of my main focuses on this trip will be to train our staff in the use of ultrasound for both maternal care and heart disease screening,” he said. “We recently became a global health partner of Butterfly Network, a health tech company. I am excited to study and use portable ultrasound technology. The pandemic made more sense to me. “
– Kristina Sauerwien
Keishi Foecke received an Office of Undergraduate Research award and a Pulitzer Center grant to study how cultural norms affect the health of women in Uganda. (Photo: Joe Angeles / Washington University)
Senior Keishi Foecke’s studies of global health took her to Uganda, where she examined school absences among menstruating girls and documented the country’s burgeoning #MeToo movement.
And to her hometown of San Francisco, where she helped unhindered families during the pandemic.
And down the street to The SPOT, the School of Medicine’s youth clinic, where Foecke marketed free services for low-income and LGBT youth.
“Global health is not just about injustices occurring in distant places,” said Foecke, who is expected to earn a degree in anthropology from Arts & Sciences. “There are incredible inequalities in our backyards too.”
Foecke credits her mentors in the GlobeMed student group with their far-reaching views on global health justice. The group has a longstanding partnership with Uganda Development and Health Associates, which provides reproductive and child health services and runs the menstrual dignity program studied by Foecke. GlobeMed members are also active locally, building new relationships with St. Louis nonprofits and advocating reforms to social and health justice.
“We talk a lot in class about ethics, cultural sensitivity and sustainable partnerships, but GlobeMed gave me the opportunity to see those values in action,” said Foecke, a Fox-Clark citizen scientist with the Gephardt Institute. “It’s about listening to the voices of the community and centering them.”
Foecke is a 3-2 student at Brown School and will be doing her Masters in Public Health next year. She is currently a research fellow on a tobacco control project at the Centers for Disease Control and will be working on the CDC’s Public Health Law Program this summer. Ultimately, she may be in Washington, DC, developing public health policy, doing research at a university, or working for a nonprofit, home or abroad.
“No matter what you do or where you go, understanding public health and health inequalities is central to solving the big problems,” said Foecke.
– Diane Toroian Keaggy
Cory French wears a rainbow ribbon to empower patients. He will be completing his gynecology residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a Harvard teaching hospital. (Photo by Matt Miller / Medical School)
In 2019, a transgender man unwittingly led Cory French to his medical calling.
French was a third-year medical student working on a clinical rotation in gynecological oncology when he saw terror in the patient’s eyes. “It was the same crippling fear that marked the beginning of my life as a withdrawn gay man,” French recalled. “Even now, having got out of school a decade ago, that fear never leaves me and I have to keep fighting every day to escape its influence.”
The patient should undergo an examination of the cervix, vagina, and vulva for precancerous or cancerous lesions.
“Here, at the intersection of identity and clinical care, I knew that I had found my home in obstetrics and gynecology. Nowhere else in medicine is there such an intertwining of social identity, and nowhere else can I better use my own history to enable my patients to navigate their own care. “
This summer, French will begin training in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Program at Harvard Medical School. “I am particularly focused on advocating for vaccinations and screenings to prevent cervical cancer in queer patients and understanding the risk of pelvic cancer for transgender patients under hormone therapy,” he said.
During and after his training, French said he will continue to lead LGBTQ + medical advocacy groups while developing lessons that fill gaps in gender and sexual minority representation in medical education.
A question asked by this patient revealed such loopholes. “He asked me if his testosterone therapy was used as a contraceptive and I had no answer,” said French, making it clear that it was not working as a contraceptive. “I intend to spend my career breaking down barriers and building the empathy necessary to remove the stigma of gender.”
– Kristina Sauerwein