Global Health Spotlight
Apurv Soni, Fifth year MD-PhD student at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS)
Please tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in Global Health?
I am Apurv Soni, a fifth year MD-PhD student at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), and I am pursuing a doctoral thesis on child undernutrition in India as part of my Clinical and Population Health Research PhD training. As a person who was born in rural India and immigrated during my teen years to one of the most racially and socio-economically diverse towns in Massachusetts (Lowell), I developed a deep appreciation for the opportunities that I was afforded and became acutely aware of the masses of children and teenagers who may not realize their full potential due to their circumstances. I recognized the importance of the multitude of factors that cause disease and impede human development but lie outside of traditional doctor-patient interactions and cannot be explained solely by a biological framework. An introductory course in Epidemiology during my undergraduate studies at Boston University further solidified this understanding and motivated me to pursue a career in which the individual care I provide to my patients can be complemented with a broader effort to help children from underserved areas. Another undergraduate student at Boston University, Nisha Fahey (currently a pediatrics resident at UMMS), shared similar interests in global health and together we reached out to a tertiary care hospital and medical college in rural India, Charutar Arogya Mandal (CAM). We collaborated with the head of their central research services, Dr. Somashekhar Nimbalkar, to design a cross-sectional survey of the reproductive-aged women from surrounding regions to understand their health-status and healthcare seeking behavior. This early work laid the foundation for both our involvement with CAM, which has since then evolved into a multidisciplinary collaboration over the past seven years.
What brought you to UMMS?
My decision to join University of Massachusetts Medical School for graduate studies was primarily based on their mission of training next generation of primary care providers who care for their patients and advocate for their communities beyond the confines of an examination room. As a testament to this mission of UMMS, consider that in just my first year at UMMS, the institution’s leadership endorsed my previous public health work in India by formally signing a Memorandum of Understanding with our collaborating institution in India, Charutar Arogya Mandal (CAM), and funding a pilot project study to follow pregnant women during perinatal period in rural India. This success was also because of the support from my mentor, Dr. Jeroan Allison, who encouraged my transfer to the MD/PhD program for advanced research training. Additionally, attending UMMS allowed me the opportunity to remain close to my parents and my brother, who currently live in Lowell.
How do you engage in Global Health while a busy Medical School Student?
Three factors allowed me to stay engaged in Global Health while going through medical school. 1) Partnership with Nisha while we both navigated our respective medical school curriculum and shared responsibilities for advancing research collaboration with CAM. 2) Strong mentorship from Dr. Allison, Dr. Nimbalkar, Dr. Tiffany Moore Simas, Dr. Nancy Byatt, and Dr. Milagros Rosal that allowed us to grow as researchers and prepare scholarly products. 3) UMMS curricular flexibility, which allowed me to organize my medical school learning around the global health activities. After the first two years, enrolling in the Clinical and Population Health Research PhD program provided ample support and resources to expand our global health activities with CAM.
How do you see your Global Health work continuing while here at UMass Medical and thereafter?
Nisha and I have been both very fortunate to receive strong mentorship support from exemplary faculty here at UMMS and at CAM. Over the years, we have developed strong relationships with them and look up to them as our role-models for a career in academic medicine. In addition to the mentors mentioned above, we have recently forged a collaboration with Dr. Heena Santry, Dr. David McManus, and Dr. Raffi Aroian to develop three independent projects that were each supported by the UMMS OGH Pilot Project Grants. Additionally, we have partnered with Dr. Melissa Fischer, Dr. Michael Chin, Dr. Patricia McQuilkin, and Dr. Anindita Deb to develop a platform for other trainees like ourselves to participate in our collaboration with CAM. We are hopeful that this paradigm allows for sustainability of the work between UMMS and CAM beyond our time here. We have described the framework of our vision in a peer-reviewed manuscript that won the best manuscript award and 2016 Consortium of Universities for Global Health. Nisha and I are both at UMMS for the next few years. We hope to continue working with UMMS and CAM faculty after completing our training and collaborate on research programs that build on currently existing projects.