Overheard at MUSCTweet
By Jane Ma
Caroline West, MUSC College of Medicine Class of 2016
West is one of 54 student recipients from around the nation to have received the 2014 Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship. Only one candidate from each school can be nominated and West was chosen from a class of 181 students to receive the MUSC nomination. She was then selected from a pool of national applicants, by a panel of Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society reviewers, to receive the fellowship.
This national research fellowship was originally established in 1982 by the board of directors of AOA, a national honor society for medical students. Membership in AOA is considered one of the highest honors a student can receive during his or her four years of medical school. Only a small fraction of a class is even eligible for this distinction. West was recently nominated, along with nine of her classmates, to be a junior member of the AOA Society and believes that receiving the Kuckein Fellowship helped her get the AOA nomination.
The fellowship is designed to encourage student–initiated and designed projects under the guidance of an academic mentor. This experience serves to foster the next generation of physicians and scientists and promote leadership abilities within the health care field.
The fellowship comes with a $5,000 award, and up to an additional $1,000 is available for the student to travel to the national meeting to present the results of his or her research.
West’s research project focuses on developing an effective screening model for Type 2 diabetes in rural Tanzania. With the help of the AOA Research Fellowship, along with a grant from MUSC’s Center for Global Health, she traveled to Tanzania for three weeks in July as part of a larger research group under her mentor, Michael Sweat, Ph.D.
Sweat is a professor and director of the Family Services Research Center in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and he also serves as the director of the Center for Global Health. Sweat is the principal investigator of a rigorous three–year National Institutes of Health Phase II randomized control trial that is designed to reduce population-level human immunodeficiency virus incidence in a rural, developing country setting that is experiencing a severe generalized HIV epidemic. West’s project is a sub-study that fits under Sweat’s broader preventive work, and her results will ultimately be used to better equip the local health clinics in Tanzania to manage the growing prevalence of non–communicable diseases.
Third-year medical student Caroline West, third from right, traveled to rural Tanzania in 2013 to train workers to use a basic screening model for diabetes management. photo provided
The larger research group is establishing a prevention center in the Kisarawe district of Tanzania, and one of West’s major responsibilities last summer was to train workers in basic screening and management of diabetes, as well as gain perspective from health care workers there about the nature of treating chronic disease in their unique environment. Back in the U.S., she is continuing to work on the project by developing a screening algorithm that will maximize accuracy, minimize costs and address the natural barriers of providing primary care in developing nations.
Her work is especially important because screening and diagnosis of diabetes is very difficult in resource-limited communities. Utilizing the most accurate methods of diagnosis is not always possible in an environment that often lacks batteries, electricity, sophisticated medical equipment, or the funds to pay for them. Consequently, even the simplest methods that typically would be used for testing — giving a patient a glucometer to track blood glucose levels or sending a blood sample off to a lab — are generally out of the realm of possibility.
Frustratingly, according to West, the cheapest and simplest methods are not very accurate. In addition, very little research has been done on how to address this issue because historically it was thought that diabetes only affected developed nations. But this is not the case: developing and underdeveloped nations are not spared from the epidemic, and West hopes her research can shed some light on how best to diagnose and treat diabetics in this specific environment.
Leading, problem-solving in a globalized context, West is learning about research design and public health care, which will serve to enrich her medical school experience. As the Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellow, she has an opportunity to set an example as a self–motivated and passionate professional who is interested in finding creative solutions aimed at improving quality of health care even on the other side of the world.