Mixing Medicine & Music in Malawi

Mixing Medicine & Music in Malawi

Photo by julianne villaflor under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY


Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Sonali making music on an improvised drum set at Lake of Stars
Sonali making music on an improvised drum set at Lake of Star

Sonali Palchaudhuri, a UMMS M4 student, is one of only 24 students from the United States who were selected to the 2011-2012 cohort of Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars & Fellows (FICRS). The FICRS program provides a one-year clinical research experience in top-ranked NIH-funded research centers in low-resource countries, pairing US graduate/medical students and local researchers with mentorship by topic-specific senior investigators. There are more than 17 FICRS locations in 14 countries, each supported by a US partner institution. Her particular fellowship operates under the UNC Project Malawi, which conducts research and training on a variety of fields including diagnosis and care for HIV, STIs, malaria, and TB.

“This is an amazing opportunity, and I was very excited to be selected,” Palchaudhuri says. “I am learning invaluable lessons about conducting clinical research in this setting; this experience is a perfect supplement to the medical training I am getting at Michigan.”

Palchaudhuri traveled to Lilongwe in August 2011 and will be there through May 2012, delaying her traditional M4 education by a year. During her time in Malawi, she is working on a few HIV-related projects, including implementing a point-of-care CD4 analyzer in clinics to determine eligibility for anti retroviral treatment (ART) for asymptomatic patients, as well as other projects in the medical ward, aiming to standardize care for common diagnoses.

In addition to her research, Palchaudhuri has found an outlet for one of her other passions: music. Within a week of her arrival in Malawi, she connected with a indie rock band looking for a drummer and has since been performing with them around the country, including at an international music festival in Malawi. They plan to play at a festival in Harare, Zimbabwe in May. “Playing music has always been an important part of my life,” she notes, “so while being a fedora-wearing drummer for a rock band on tour in Malawi wasn’t expected, I can’t actually imagine life without it now.”

As the current group of UMMS M4s anxiously awaits residency placements, their one-time classmate lends credence to Henry David Thoreau’s words: "If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."