Through a previous medical outreach journey to Nicaragua, Subhjit Sekhon saw first-hand the dire need for health care services in some of the remote and underserved areas of the world.
The UMKC School of Medicine sixth-year medical student recently received a travel fellowship award from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene to go back to Latin America to study the risk factors and sociodemographics associated with women suffering from cervical cancer.
“During a medical outreach trip to Nicaragua, I had the privilege of serving more than 900 patients from several remote and under-resourced villages,” Sekhon said. “For many it was their first experience with a health care professional. A majority wanted help for common complaints. By meeting basic health care needs, I developed a passion to help medically underserved areas and create sustainable health care solutions.”
Guatemala suffers one of the highest rates of cervical cancer among women in Latin America with more than 22 in every 100,000 women diagnosed and more than 12 in every 100,000 women who die of the disease each year.
Sekhon will travel with colleagues from Washington University in St. Louis to work at La Liga Nacional Contra el Cancer (INCAN) in Guatemala City, the largest cancer referral center in the country. It is the only comprehensive cancer treatment center in the region for the poor and underserved and provides care for more than one-fourth of all cancer patients in the country.
She said her research study will explore characteristics associated with noncompliance to treatment or follow up among women with a diagnosis of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. She will also assess barriers to treatment and analyze outcomes of treatment in patients treated at INCAN.
Sekhon was one of 26 students from 21 medical schools across the country to receive the 2019 Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine. The annual award is the only medical student fellowship dedicated to promoting a career path in tropical medicine.
“My primary interest in tropical medicine is to understand the disease in totality of circumstances,” Sekhon said.
An exact time frame for her travel has yet to be worked out, but Sekhon said wants to learn more about the intersection between infection, biology, the patient and society.
“As a future physician-scientist, tropical medicine appeals to me because it equally weighs social determinants of health with the microbiological basis of disease, which I believe is the true way to treat a patient, conduct meaningful research, and implement health care change,” she said.