May 14, 2004

Two students earn international fellowships

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Third-year students Jose Hagan, left, and Michael Kinzer are recipients of the first-ever Fogarty-Ellison International Clinical Research Training Fellowships. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Two students earn international fellowships

For two Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students, a year of training in developing countries is an opportunity to go back to where their hearts have been for some time.

Third-year students Jose Hagan and Michael Kinzer are recipients of the first-ever Fogarty-Ellison International Clinical Research Training Fellowships, and will spend the next year abroad.

“It’s the first time they’ve offered something like this — a mentored experience overseas for medical students. It’s an honor and an exciting opportunity to be a part of it,” Kinzer said.

The fellowship program, which consists of one year of mentored clinical research training in infectious disease at a site in the developing world, will pair the students with a student in the host country. Together, they will garner experience at NIH-funded clinical research sites.

Hagan will serve his fellowship in Botswana, working with the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership for HIV Research and Education. Kinzer will travel to Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, to work with the University of Pretoria and Yale University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

For many, living in a developing country would be a foreign experience, but for Hagan and Kinzer, it’s more of a homecoming. Both have lived underdeveloped countries in the past — places much less stable, according to Kinzer.

“[Botswana and South Africa] are places people go on vacation — they are much more comfortable than where we’ve worked in the past,” Kinzer said. Kinzer lived in various countries growing up and worked in Tanzania and Nigeria through his experience in the Peace Corp.

With a father who worked for the World Health Organization, Hagan grew up in Qatar, Somalia, Kenya and Mongolia. He even returned to Mongolia the summer between his first and second years of medical school to carryout his own HIV research project.

Both Kinzer and Hagan thought they’d have to wait years to work internationally — then they heard about the Fogarty-Ellison program. They quickly found Vanderbilt mentors and applied. The application process brought them to the NIH campus for interviews by the program directors representing the 14 foreign sites. It was then that Hagan and Kinzer started getting nervous about earning one of the 14 fellowships.

“When we got there and started meeting the other applicants, it blew us away,” Hagan said. “The experience and passion they have is unbelievable. We’re really honored to be chosen out of this group of students.”

In fact, the competition was so great that the program increased the number of positions offered from 14 to 20.

“This is a source of great pride for our faculty. Vanderbilt was very successful to have two students achieve fellowship positions,” said William Schaffner, M.D., chair and professor of Preventive Medicine, and Hagan’s mentor for the program. “This is a well-deserved opportunity for Jose. He’s a person of great enthusiasm and extraordinary initiative.”

Kinzer’s mentor, Peter Wright, M.D., director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, agreed that Kinzer was a good match for the program. “Mike is a remarkable student who has a uniquely broad base of knowledge and experience in developing countries…He is empathetic, deeply caring and concerned about disparities in health care,” he said.

The students felt the guidance they have received at Vanderbilt gave them an edge in the competition.

“We’re both lucky to have people like [Wright and Schaffner] here, people who are widely known in their fields and who have been through this before,” Kinzer said. “Vanderbilt is embracing international health – especially through the ongoing search for a chair in Global Health. For people interested in International Health, Vanderbilt is quickly becoming the place to be.”

Hagan and Kinzer will begin the fellowship program in July with an orientation program at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., and will then travel to their respective research sites for 11 months of training.

“It’s exciting to work in developing countries,” Kinzer said, “but, it’s important to remember that the media mostly shows pictures of suffering, flies and new diseases. What you don’t see is that there are people who are happy, people who are living their lives too. But there are those who need help — just like there are those who need help here. For me, it just feels like I belong over there helping.”