Supporting clinical research in Lima
CSPH alumna Christina Nelson shares her experience as a Fogarty Fellow
With her husband, dog and two suitcases in tow, Colorado School of Public Health alumna Christina Nelson, MD, MPH arrived in Lima, Peru this past August to spend a year as an NIH-funded Fogarty International Clinical Research Fellow. This month, @theForefront was able to catch-up with Nelson over email and asked her to share her experience as a Fogarty Fellow.
AFF: How did you find out about the Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars & Fellows Program (FICRS-F)? What was involved in the application process?
CN: I found out about the FICRS-F program through an announcement forwarded by my Preventive Medicine Residency program director, Carolyn DiGuiseppi. The program intrigued me because it involved everything about which I am passionate in my career – global health, clinical research, and helping patients.
All Fogarty participants are chosen through competitive selection, however the process differs slightly for scholars and fellows. Scholars must prepare an application that includes a personal statement, CV, and letters of recommendation. Then they are interviewed in-person. Fellows, on the other hand, must design a study and write a complete proposal in collaboration with a US-based mentor. Fellows are then interviewed by phone and evaluated based on both their personal application and the scientific merit of the proposal.
AFF: How did you end up in Lima, Peru collaborating with researchers at the Naval Medical Research Center Detachment?
CN: The FICRS-F program has a variety of research collaboration sites throughout the world, including Africa, Asia and Latin America. One of the established Fogarty research sites is in Lima, Peru, and I chose this location for a variety of reasons. I liked the investigators and potential projects, heard great things about Peru, and wanted to improve my Spanish. I already spoke Spanish at a proficient level, but I wanted to really focus on my language skills and become fluent. These factors combined made it a perfect fit.
AFF: What are you researching?
CN: I am researching viral meningitis and encephalitis as part of a large hospital-based surveillance study. In addition to helping out with this ongoing study, I am conducting a nested case-control study on the risk factors for herpes encephalitis, a devastating disease with high rates of morbidity and mortality.
One aspect of this study that I really admire is how it gives back to the community and local hospitals by providing medication and laboratory capacity building. For example, acyclovir is provided free of charge to enrolled patients who have suspected herpes encephalitis. This is an important means of giving back since many people do not have insurance and cannot afford medical care or vital medications.
AFF: What do you enjoy most about living in Peru?
CN: At the risk of sounding cliché, what I love most about living in Peru is the wonderful people – my coworkers and friends here are all incredibly kind-hearted, hard-working and fun. The food is also fantastic. Ceviche, aji peppers, potatoes with cheesy huancaina sauce, quinoa, and churros con chocolate are just a few of my favorite dishes here.
AFF: What has most surprised you about your fellowship or what do you think you’ll take away from the experience?
CN: The Fogarty program has been a phenomenal experience thus far, and I have very much appreciated the opportunities it has given me. By providing hands-on experience with study design, conduction, and data analysis, the program really prepares you to launch a career in clinical research and global health. Also, my Spanish is getting better every day which is great!
AFF: What advice do you have for students interested in working overseas?
CN: Learn the language ahead of time! You will be a much more valuable volunteer and it will really enhance your experience. Also, be humble and respectful of local health care professionals. They can teach you so much! Always have a good attitude and don’t judge the people or living conditions in a developing country – it’s not better or worse than back home, just different.
Lastly, be prepared to pay your own international travel and living expenses early on in your career. Thankfully there are some travel grants for students, but they are still few and far between. You must first build your CV and prove that you have the global health dedication and experience, and then later you can expect to be awarded grants and positions abroad.