Vinay Mikkilineni – 2017 Recipient Resident/Fellow

Dr. Vinay Mikkilineni (right)

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

Born and raised in Texas, I came to UIC secondary to the unique programs that it offered including a combined Internal Medicine/Emergency Medicine residency program, an integrated school of public health, and an active global health center with involved faculty amongst whom I have found many friends and mentors. I am currently a 5th year in the combined Internal Medicine/Emergency Medicine residency program, an HPA student in the school of public health, and starting my fellowship in International Emergency Medicine.

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

My interest in medicine started with a simple curiosity and some fond memories of sitting in my mother’s internal medicine office after school. As I grew up a career in medicine naturally drew me in as it continued to challenge me while still bringing me a sense of joy and fulfillment.

What inspired you to help others globally?

My first experiences working abroad were during medical school. While a sense of adventure initially took me abroad.  There was an aspect helping those that didn’t have the tools or the support to get help by the current infrastructure that really drew me in, in addition to address the challenge of creating sustainable change. This was greater than any personal goals that I had, and has led to me to continue exploring the complexities of working abroad.

Why did you select this destination? 

Often doors are opened by simply continuing to work and endeavor in a chosen field, and this opportunity came about in the same way. Working with faculty as part of the Consortium for Universities for Global Health, a project was initiated to create an online database in coordination with constituents and partners at other universities in the US and around the world to coordinate projects and human resources for capacity building by matching needs that are expressed by universities in resource limited areas with the interests of those that are available to help. AFREHealth, one of our partners and new initiative between universities in Africa, held their first conference which allowed for us start to pilot, build and revamp our database and project.

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

Often work in global health is isolated to small projects and local settings. This was new experience with truly meeting the players in global health and some of the giants in the field. This project focuses on the needs of the local institutions instead of the desires or goals of the helping institutions, a theme that ran paramount at the AFREhealth conference. The Erikson Explorers Award allows me to offset the costs of working abroad during residency, which can be a financially pressured time, and gives me the opportunity to get a foothold into a field that I hope to make my career.

Paul Blessing – 2017 Recipient 4th Year Student

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

Hello, my name is Paul Blessing. I am currently a first year emergency and internal medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I also completed my medical education at UIC. To this point, I could not be happier with the education I received and the current training that I am going through. On July 1st I start my second year of residency and while I do not feel prepared, I know deep down that UIC has prepared me for the increased patient responsibility that is coming my way.

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

Science was always an interest of mine. All of my extended family are engineers, so I mostly assumed that I would follow the same path.  While on my interview at Marquette, they gave us the tour of the anatomy lab. It was one of my first real experiences with anatomy and, per my mother, was the obvious turning point that pushed me toward medicine. There are not any other major epiphanies that drove me toward medicine. Over the next few years, I slowly realized that I preferred the hospital over the laboratory, and preferred working directly with patients and their families rather than sitting at a computer.

What inspired you to help others Globally?

My dad gave me my first push toward global health. Every year, he went to Honduras with our community church to build concrete floors in people’s homes and provide short-term medications for parasitic infections etc. As an upper-middle class suburbanite, it took me out of my space of privilege and made me realized how much of the world lived. Additionally, there were several local high school students that worked extensively with our group. I loved interacting with them and exchanging information about the way we each lived. Throughout college, I went on similar short-term trips to Honduras, either providing medicine or helping to build water systems for communities. During one trip, a group of children sang a song back to us that we taught them earlier about proper water sanitation.  That experience really stuck with me, and led me to pursue higher levels of education in regards to global health. I added a public health minor to undergrad degree, which changed my mindset from short term and service oriented to more long term and development focused.  I was then lucky enough to get into the GMED program at UIC, who further developed my global health understanding and pushed myself and others towards experiences like mine in Cape Town.

Why did you select this destination?  

In between my 3rd and 4th years of medical school, I lived in Cape Town, South Africa working for an emergency medicine NGO. The experience included many tasks and responsibilities that are involved with global health work: I staffed an international conference, wrote and edited scientific papers, performed field work, data collection, data analysis and worked clinically in a hospital in a South African township. As part of that experience, I was researching the use of a mobile phone App that helped emergency physicians treat burns.  As the App required the use of patient pictures, we decided to look at the ethical impacts of such a device. We wrote a grant to an organization called the Brocher Foundation. They host groups of up to 30 people at their conference venue in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss developing ethical issues in science. We won the grant, which paid for the conference venue, lodging as well as travel cost for half the participants from low income countries.  The conference was held from Jan 9 to Jan 12 of 2019 on the shores of lake Geneva. We were able to invite 30 participants.

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

The Erickson Explorer award helped me to continue work I was doing in South Africa.  The conference was entitled ‘creating an ethical framework for the development of image based mHealth in low-income settings’. We had an incredible conference in Geneva. It was a small group based conference and we generated great discussion, and were able to create a basic ethical framework that is still being developed.  I met several individuals from the WHO, African government officials and global health researchers and advocates.  The same team I worked with in Cape Town was also with me in South Africa.  The conference really showed me how small the world has become and that global health can truly happen everywhere. A conference venue on Lake Geneva can bring together a diverse group of people from different cultures and income levels to focus on a common goal.