Vinodinee Dissanayake – 2011-2012 Recipient

Tell me about yourself and your current experience at the UIC College of Medicine

Since I was a child, I was struck by the diversity that surrounded me. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, where diversity abounded in 1979, but my initial venture into diversity was my very own family. My parents, Sri Lankans, would reminisce about their motherland, providing me with the fodder to build dreams of giving back to my roots. My parents are a large part of who I am—my mother’s childhood stories and my father’s work ethic taught me that true happiness comes from using our talents and abilities to help those in need. As a global toxicology fellow at UIC, I am just beginning my ventures into studying poisons on an international level. UIC has fostered this study by providing me with diversity in every corner and outreach in every stride. I have been very fortunate to be the very first global toxicology fellow, and it is because of my mentors at UIC that I am able to make this long sought-after dream come closer to home for me.

How did you decide to go into the field of Medicine?

Every one of our lives hangs in the fine balance of an infinite number of unpredictable possibilities. Every morning, I am reminded that I would not be here, leading the life I have been gifted, if my father had not been empowered with an education and if my mother had needed to provide a second income rather than stay at home. My father grew up in a hut with eleven brothers and sisters who had tea alone for their main meal twice a day. The only reason why he had been able to follow his dreams was hard work, perseverance and the invaluable public medical education system that provided him with the window of opportunity that changed the course and outcome of his life, and all of our lives. Growing up in the face of this impact, it felt natural to me to follow in his footsteps, and now the contentment and happiness that was in his eyes after a long, hard day at work are expressions I see in my own eyes. For me, there is no finer way to give back to communities at large than to make sure that their health is in capable hands, and I strive to provide individualized care every day and enjoy every moment of it.

What inspired you to help others Globally?

One of the many stories my mother shared with me as a child was how one small parasite caused complete disruption of my grandmother’s life. Malaria had ended my great grandfather’s life prematurely, had taken my grandmother out of school at the age of eight, and had forced her hand in marriage to a man 20 years older than her. It had led to much strife for my mother as a child. Years later, after graduating from an emergency medicine residency, I found that many of my dreams still lay unexplored. The butterfly effect of health disparities is heart-wrenching, and yet we have not been able to successfully treat these age-old ailments and prevent the consequences that inevitably result. The advancing waves of technology have spread the same horrors of the Industrial Revolution to developing countries, resulting in even more morbidity. I hope to use the wisdom and experience I gain through global outreach to give back to the roots of our human civilization that are thirsty for aid and hope.

Why did you select this destination? 

As a burgeoning global toxicologist, I was named the arsenic fellow because I am the thirty-third fellow to follow the esteemed ranks of the Toxikon Consortium, however my heart is in lead. Sri Lanka is one of many developing countries that has been suffering from lead poisoning, largely due to the double standard in paint products by local manufacturers. These manufacturers sell unleaded paint to Western Europe and the United States and leaded paint to local countries. Fortunately, due to a recent environmental activist group in Sri Lanka exposing the dangers of lead in a public health education campaign, a public outcry resulted in a policy change by the Sri Lankan Standards Institute and Consumer Affairs Authority effective January 2013. However, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh continue the sale of leaded paint, and their children suffer because of it. My trip to Sri Lanka allowed me to better elucidate the machinery behind the public education campaign to better understand how change can be effectuated from the ground working upward. It also allowed me to construct a model that can be utilized in other settings as we strive to effect change in other countries facing the same difficulties with leaded paint.

How did this experience from the Erickson Explorers Award impact your life/influence you?

The Erickson Explorers Award has made it possible for me to meet new people and build a network of local professionals with like-minded interests, and thus, it has allowed for the institution of a sustainable program in environmental toxicology. It has also paved the way for future investigations in other developing countries utilizing a similar model of public education and government communication to make change for the good. The award has provided me with the solid foundation to build a sustainable reality. My dreams are no longer hopes and inspirations. They are now goals and accomplishments, a priceless venture that will make an impact for not only one small island nation, but for many outside Sri Lanka’s boundaries. Our next stop is Gujarat, India, and I am certain that with more cemented modeling in this different setting, we will learn and accomplish even more. I have strived to succeed in my life so that I can somehow give back to my roots so that my parent’s voyage to a strange new world away from their home was not in vain, but was ultimately productive and worthwhile for them and their motherland. This experience that was made possible by the Erickson Explorers Award has truly filled an aching hole in my soul, and I am looking forward to a future of continued exploration.

Ali Rashan – 2011-2012 Recipient

Tell me about yourself and your current experience at the UIC College of Medicine

I am a fourth year medical student applying to a residency in Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. I have an interest in international medicine. During the summer of my M1 year I participated in my first international elective at the Ain Shams University Hospital, Cairo Egypt in the department of General Surgery. I enjoyed my time abroad very much and decided to continue my participation in international elective rotations. My next rotation was in Emergency Medicine at AIIMS Hospital (All India Institute of Medicine & Sciences), New Delhi, India. During my free time I am a freelance international portrait photographer. My career goals are to practice academic medicine, conduct research in Otolaryngology and perform pro-bono international medical work.

How did you decide to go into the field of Medicine?

I was first exposed to medicine through my father, who practices internal medicine. However, my interest in medicine and science was solidified during undergraduate and graduate studies in Molecular & Cellular Biology and Cell Structural Biology, respectively.

What inspired you to help others Globally?

Seeing my father practice medicine four different countries, Iraq, England, Ireland and the United States of America, was my inspiration to practice medicine at an international level. I was fascinated by the vast spectrum of people who my father treated over his time in all four countries. This was an experience I also wanted to experience thus it became a driving force for my international rotations in medicine.

Why did you select this destination?

India has been a country I have always been interested in visiting and seeing how Indian healthcare differs from American healthcare. I believe that practicing medicine in a third world and first would country will help to develop my cultural competency and bedside manner.

How did this experience from the Erickson Explorers Award impact your life/influence you?

Being awarded the Erickson Explores Award relieved the financial burden of international travel allowing me to focus my time on researching and familiarizing myself with more pertinent aspects of an international rotation: Indian Culture and the Indian Healthcare System.

Thank You Letter 


Dr. Timothy Erickson
Director for Center for Global Health
Erickson Explorers Award
UIC Center for Global Health
1940 W. Taylor
Chicago, IL 60612

Dear Dr. Erickson,

I am writing to thank you for your generous international elective scholarship, the Erickson Explorers Award at the UIC Center for Global Health. I was very happy and appreciative to learn that I was selected as the recipient of your scholarship.

I am a fourth year medical student who plans to pursue a residency in Otolaryngology with an interest in practicing medicine in third world countries. My short-term goals for my medical education are to grow my international clinical experiences with the objective of further developing my cultural competency. I decided to pursue my international clinical experience at the All India Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Hospital because of its highly regarded reputation for providing a wide array of government funded medical services to the lower socioeconomic class of New Delhi and it’s surroundings cities.

My international clinical experience at AIIMS Hospital consisted of three segments. The first segment was my emergency medicine clinical work with Dr Praveen Aggarwal. The second segment involved physician and patient interviews, which utilized my background as an international portrait photographer to document the clinical environment in the department of emergency medicine. The third segment consisted of working with kids from the low-income and medically underserved areas of New Delhi through a self-designed philanthropy project: “Kameras for Kids”.

My research project: “The Global Health Initiative: Strategy Development and Promotion of Indian Healthcare Reform” is based upon literature review, images taken at AIIMS Hospital, and interviews with healthcare workers and patients during my clinical work in the emergency medicine department. The objective of the research project is to illustrate the shortcomings of the Indian healthcare system and the hardships faced by Indian citizens seeking government funded medical services. The projected audience is the American medical community. It is my hope that identifying specific deficits in the healthcare system of third world countries like India will provide further insight into the type of services US physicians could provide.

Gaining deeper insight into the lives of people affected by limited healthcare required not only hospital involvement but also community involvement. I designed “Kameras for Kids” to teach and expose children to the art of photography while concurrently giving me an opportunity to better understand how the quality of life of such families was impacted by limited healthcare.  ”Kameras for Kids” consisted of lessons in basic photography, camera usage and exposure to images taken by iconic photographers. Through prior fundraising efforts I collected 95 disposable camera’s and funds for camera development allowing the participants of “Kameras for Kids” to have hands-on learning experience with a camera (free of charge) thus giving the children an opportunity to explore their potential artistic abilities.  The photos that the children took were developed by me and given to them to keep as memorabilia of their participation. My interaction with the participants as a photographer and student-physician created trust and provided the opportunity to discuss their medically related issues.

It very gratifying to see the images collected from my international elective work displayed for the UIC community through the calendar you created. Overall, the goal of my clinical experience was to develop my cultural perspective and strengthen my clinical acumen in order to improve my patient interaction. Thanks to you, I am one step closer to that goal.

By awarding me the Erickson Explorers Award at the UIC Center for Global Health, you have lightened my financial burden which allowed me to focus more on the most important aspect of school, learning. Your generosity has inspired me to help others and give back to the community.  I hope one day I will be able to help students achieve their goals just as you have helped me.

Kind Regards,

Ali Rashan
UIC COM Class of 2013