Alex Cortez, a native of Northfield, OH, is the first person in his family to attend college. He graduated from Calvin College with a B.A. in Spanish and a minor in Biochemistry. Alex matriculated at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2011 where he was awarded a full-tuition scholarship for his leadership, academic success and community service. During medical school he has maintained his interest in working with underserved populations as Midwest Regional President of the Latino Medical Student Association.
Alex’s plans to pursue a career in general surgery and is interested in exploring the intersection between surgery and global health. He hopes to raise awareness of the importance of including surgery in addressing the global burden of disease. Surgery, which has been referred to as the “neglected stepchild of global public health,” plays an important role in addressing the morbidity and mortality associated with many communicable, congenital and acquired diseases worldwide and Alex believes that as the field of global and tropical health continues to grow, surgery must be included in the agenda. Alex is excited about his the next stages of his training and is committed to impacting patient care at both the local and global level.
Project: "Utilizing the Neglected Tool: Studying the Intersection Between Surgery and Global Health in Addressing the Global Burden of Disease"
June 28, 2014 - August 2, 2014
Cape Town, South Africa
What does the Kean Fellowship mean to you?
I was extremely excited to hear that I was chosen to receive this fellowship. As a medical student, financial constraints and course schedule obligations make engaging in international electives difficult. I developed an interest in surgery early in medical school and have since been determined to study how surgery can address the world’s health care needs. Therefore, I am beyond grateful to receive this fellowship as it allows me to take the necessary first step in exploring this interest. While this fellowship reinforces my interest in global surgery, it also reassures me that others support my endeavor. For the ASTMH to welcome my work focusing on surgery and award me this fellowship shows their commitment to including surgery in their efforts to address global and tropical health. As a fellow, this opportunity will allow me to make my interest a reality. It will also allow me to make contacts with surgeons in other countries, which will be important as I advance in my career, engage in research, and build partnerships with institutions abroad.
What do you anticipate learning?
Before one can make a difference, they must understand the problem being faced. As a future surgical trainee in the United States, I will be prepared to address the surgical needs within my country. However, it is naïve to think that my skill set and ideas can be directly translated into other contexts without an adequate understanding of their healthcare systems and determinants of health. The most important thing I hope to gain from this experience is exposure to surgery and a healthcare delivery system different from my own. This opportunity will allow me to begin thinking about and comparing problems we face to the problems faced elsewhere, as well as to drive the translational thinking needed to take strengths from one place and implement them into another.
I also look forward to learning about the surgical problems that I likely will not see during my training. For example, hydatid liver cysts are common problem faced by children infected with Echinococcus in South Africa. This exposure will enhance my diagnostic skills, as well as teach me new procedures and techniques. Finally, I am working with my mentor in implementing a colorectal database at the hospital where I will be working. This database will aid in the ongoing collaborative research between the two institutions in improving the treatment and outcomes for children born with anorectal malformations. Through this work, I will become familiar with developing and implementing research protocols on a larger scale.
What interests you about tropical medicine and what problems are you interested in solving?
I am interested in tropical and global medicine because it allows one to look at similar problems from different perspectives. All clinicians take on illness and disease from a pathophysiologic understanding, but their approach to treatment can be radically different given the population, disease prevalence, and resources in that country. Collaboration at such a level excites me and stimulates the type of thinking necessary to become a leader and pioneer.
Furthermore, many developing nations lack both the surgeons and resources to provide basic surgical care. I am interested in addressing the systems-based issues that limit the delivery of surgery in low-resourced countries. Surgery is unique among many medical specialties in that visiting surgeons are able to make an immediate impact by operating on children, as well as make a lasting change through collaboration and teaching of host surgeons and trainees.