Summer Research Program alumni blog – Charmayne Cooley

Written by Charmayne Cooley, Institute for Public Health alumna

I had the pleasure of being selected as an Institute for Public Health Summer Research program participant in the summer of 2015, which took me to rural Haiti for seven weeks to aid in wrapping up data collection on a Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food School Feeding program under the guidance of Lora Iannotti, PhD, from the Brown School.

I distinctly remember taking a break from data entry while on a tile balcony in Cap-Haïtien to check my email and seeing the announcement that the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical program I was enrolled in at Washington University in St. Louis had entered into linkage partnerships with a few medical schools. Little did I know that this moment would set into motion my current academic trajectory. Upon successfully gaining admittance, I am now a rising second-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School! UMMS has been a tremendous fit for me, especially because I’ve been able to maintain my interest in Global Health & Disparities by joining a Path of Excellence experience of the same name.

In fact, I’m having a bit of déjà vu this summer, as I’m currently in the middle of seven weeks in Chennai, India. This time, I’m conducting research on cervical cancer knowledge amongst patients at an obstetrics/gynecology clinic as a Global REACH (Research, Education, and Collaboration in Health) participant through the medical school. According to a World Health Organization publication, one out of every five women in the world with cervical cancer is Indian, making it the largest burden of such patients in the world.1

I’m so grateful for the lessons I learned during SPRINGH; namely, I was introduced to some of the challenges inherent in international research. There are often competing priorities which can be difficult to manage, especially when tasked with functioning independently from – but as an extension of – a mentor who is juggling multiple responsibilities from the States.

However, now I am seasoned enough to take it in stride that there will be miscommunications, cultural faux pas, and hiccups and delays along the way that will then be remedied in whirlwind meetings over tea. It has been eye-opening to witness clinic flow in a busy hospital and make observations and comparisons. By splitting time in the Ob-Gyn and Pathology departments, I’m also reinforcing some of the details I learned during M1 pre-clinical lectures. It has been tremendously helpful to visualize cellular changes appreciated on pap smear slides and better understand the histopathology.

Meanwhile, I wrestle with the big ideas of inconsistencies, cultural sensitivities, and their implications on health, and how to best think about combating a disease that burdens hundreds of thousands when resources are scare. Research done well has the power to influence practices, protocols, and policies, so above all, I have resolved to conduct quality studies with integrity. Personally, I’m also continuing to think about what field of medicine to pursue and the role that research may play in my career path.

To the latest cohort wrapping up their Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program, congratulations! I can assure you that the lessons that you learned during the experience will be useful in the future: whether it was a scientific discovery, an error you vow to never make again, or something you learned about yourself. I wish you the best of luck as you navigate the next steps as students, researchers, and contributors to health.

1Government of India – World Health Organization Collaboration Programme 2004-2005. Guidelines for cervical cancer screening program. 2006