Vicky Koski-Karell

UMMS Class of 2023 (MD/PhD)

Why UMMS? What struck me first about UMMS was the community. It sounds completely cliche, but it's true. From day one, I felt that magical feeling you get when surrounded by bright, brilliant, friendly students and faculty who you know will not only support you every step of the way but also push you to be a better version of yourself. I instantly knew that UMMS would help to foster my growth not only professionally, but also personally. A large part of this has to do with the UMMS administration. I've never encountered such accessible, thoughtful deans, faculty, and staff who go out of their way to listen to and support us students in all of our endeavors. As a non-traditional MD/PhD student who is passionate about global health equity and social justice, I'm grateful to be attending a school that puts such emphasis on patient-centered care, critical community engagement, innovation, leadership, and understanding/addressing the social determinants of disease.

When did you first develop an interest in global health? I've been tuned into global affairs since I was very little. As an archaeologist, my dad traveled a great deal for his research. My mom, who is just as passionate about traveling, emigrated from Mexico in her mid-20s and would take us to visit relatives there throughout my childhood. When I was in middle school, I began wondering how I could combine my growing interest in medicine and international politics. That's when I learned about Doctors Without Borders and, soon thereafter, about Partners In Health. These organizations not only fascinated me, but inspired me as well. It IS possible to do both, I realized. In college, I had the extreme privilege of meeting and learning from Dr. Paul Farmer and his colleagues, and, after college, serving as his research assistant at Partners In Health and Harvard Medical School.

What is the most exciting things happening at UMMS these days? It's a bit hard for me to know, actually! I completed two third-year clinical rotations this past summer before transitioning into the PhD side of my joint program -- I'll be in the Anthropology Department for the next ~5 years before returning to finish my MD. From what I can tell, though, one of the most exciting things happening at UMMS these days are the curriculum changes. There are also a number of exciting talks, events, and conferences scheduled for this year like the annual Sujal Symposium for Health and Social Justice and the annual regional Latino Medical Student Association conference.

Can you provide us with a brief view into any international experiences you’ve participated in while a UMMS student? Over the past two years at UMMS, I've had the privilege of traveling to Haiti three times. These have all been self-organized trips in collaboration with colleagues in Boston and in Haiti, but I've received generous funding and outstanding, invaluable mentorship from the Medical School. During the summer between first and second year, I conducted two months of ethnographic fieldwork in the rural Lower Artibonite region of Haiti. This project investigated the relationships among health, water supply, sanitation, and food security in an area of Haiti that was/is significantly affected by the ongoing cholera epidemic. Our goal was to assess the progress and challenges of Haiti's national plan for the elimination of cholera (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27307774). This past summer, after completing two clinical rotations at UMHS and before starting grad school, I spent seven weeks in Haiti learning French, following up with those who participated in my previous study, and doing an internship/observership in the Surgery Department of Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, Haiti.

Medical specialty area and why? I'm strongly leaning toward Emergency Medicine, with a specific focus on global health, humanitarian response, and human rights. Much of my interest in emergency medicine has been informed by my EMT-B training in high school as well as my experiences in Haiti, where I've seen first hand the impact that an EM skill-set has on patient care. EM equips physicians with the tools to respond rapidly and effectively to a plethora of health crises and in a variety of settings. These doctors are working on the frontlines of care delivery alongside nurses, PAs, social workers, pharmacists, and many others. Communication and teamwork are crucial. I'm dedicated to providing humane, compassionate care to all patient populations, especially the poor and underserved. I would love to use the skills and knowledge that EM training provides to work with colleagues to improve health care delivery in the U.S., in resource-constrained places like Haiti, and in settings around the world in need of humanitarian assistance and improved local EM systems.

Vicky Koski-Karell in the rice paddies of Bocozel, Haiti. (2015)

Significant impacts along your personal path that led you to medicine or that molded your education/life choices? I guess I'm one of those people who knew they wanted to be a doctor since they were a kid (starting around age 5). But there were many things that happened along the way that helped to reaffirm my passion for medicine. Starting in kindergarten, my grandma encouraged me to learn the names of all of the human bones. Every few days starting around age 7, I'd teach myself a new bone and report back to her. My grandma, who had worked as a lab tech in an NIH cancer research lab, also taught me at a young age how to use a microscope and prepare slides. When I turned 8, I received my very own microscope for my birthday (and I still have it). In the fourth grade, I read the biography of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the U.S. From that moment on, I was hooked. Around middle school, I also started developing a serious passion for international affairs -- probably influenced by my parents and five older siblings. I threw myself into the Model United Nations club and soon encountered the work of Doctors Without Borders. In high school, I started volunteering at my local hospital, attended the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine, got involved in the Save Darfur campaign, fundraised for a primary school in Uganda, took a year-long EMT-B training course, and attended the Virginia Governor's School for Life Sciences and Medicine, which is when I witnessed my first open-heart surgery from within the OR. When I was 17, I traveled for the first time to Haiti with my dad. As a college student at Harvard, I took a course on global health taught by Drs. Paul Farmer, Arthur Kleinman, Ann Becker, and Salman Keshavjee. The rest is history.

Since you’ve been a student here, have you had any moments that you treasure most? I've treasured more moments while at UMMS than I can recount here. A few that come particularly to mind include the annual MSTP retreat in Northern Michigan, which is a magical weekend of science, academic discourse, outdoor adventures, and camaraderie. Another was the day when a number of first- and second-year medical rallied together around social justice to engage a visiting alum and U.S. Representative in thought-provoking dialogue. Relatedly, I'll never forget all of those instances when our medical school community has come together to support one another in the aftermath of police brutality against Black people, the targeting of Muslim individuals, violence toward LGBTQ folks, etc. Participating in the White Coats for Black Lives movement, speaking at a memorial event for those killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, organizing a water drive for Flint, and sharing in solidarity meals with all of the "diversity" student orgs at UMMS are moments I'll treasure forever. I'm also grateful to have had the opportunity to give a Medical Student Grand Rounds talk about the parallel yet related tales of water disasters in Flint (lead contamination) and Haiti (cholera). Of course, every day in the hospital during clinical rotations was filled with moments I treasure. There was one surgery patient I followed for about five weeks while she was in the hospital. A few days after I arrived in Haiti this past summer, I received a message from her daughter thanking me for accompanying her and her mom throughout that difficult experience.

Anything else that readers might find interesting? For several months during medical school, I also coached sculling practices for the Ann Arbor Rowing Club! Rowing has been a significant part of my life ever since I was little (my father and all of my older siblings rowed before me, and I competed in high school and college). Being on the water twice a week helped me to cultivate more balance in my daily life while I juggled schoolwork, extracurriculars (OutMD, LANAMA, HESP, GHD, etc.), and other responsibilities. And when I can't row, I bike.