Whitney E. Harrington
University of Washington
Age: 28
ASTMH Member since 2011

"I strongly believe that this experience will be instrumental in my career development, allowing me to gain hands-on exposure to clinical medicine in the developing world, with particular focus on maternal health and infectious disease. Without the support of the Benjamin Kean Travel Fellowship, and ASMTH more generally, this experience would not be possible."

I grew up in Port Angeles, Washington, a small town in Western Washington, nestled against Olympic National Park. My parents worked hard to expose me and my sister to new ideas, regularly venturing to the Seattle Science Center or the Seattle Art Museum.

At the age of 16 I left home to attend school at Harvard University. At Harvard I worked on many different scientific projects, spent time at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and majored in Honors Neurobiology. When I graduated from college, I knew I was interested in science and medicine, but I hadn’t quite found my passion.

I moved to Seattle to join the Medical Scientist Training Program (MD-PhD) at University of Washington. On a whim, I rotated through the lab of Drs. Bucker and Van Voorhis, working on drug development for Chagas Disease. Over that summer I fell in love with parasitology and tropical infectious disease more generally.

The following summer I worked in the pediatric HIV clinic at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as worked on a project looking at tetanus revaccination of HIV positive children who had recently started HAART.

I settled into my dissertation work with Drs. Duffy and Fried with a project focused on prevention of malaria in pregnancy based on a cohort of pregnant women and their infants in Tanzania. I had found my passion.

Now with my PhD, and I am completing my last year of medical school. This year I plan on spending time at Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in Mae Sot, Thailand, with Drs. McGready and Nosten as part of the Benjamin Kean Travel Award.

What impact will the 2011 Kean Fellowship have on your future?
I am honored have been awarded the the Benjamin Kean Travel Fellowship. I am privileged to complete my proposed projected in Mae Sot, Thailand. The project has three parts:

  • I will work directly in the clinics operated by SMRU in order to gain hands-on obstetric and pediatric experience in the provision of health care in the developing world, in particular focusing on pregnancy in malaria.
  • I will investigate the morbidity of other infectious diseases in this area. I plan to work with the team to better understand the role of critical care medicine in this setting, in particular appropriate implementation of procedural skills and patient management.
  • I will analyze the safety and efficacy of chloroquine as treatment for pregnant women with Plasmodium vivax infections, while gaining increased knowledge of this pathogen.

I strongly believe that this experience will be instrumental in my career development, allowing me to gain hands-on exposure to clinical medicine in the developing world, with particular focus on maternal health and infectious disease. Without the support of the Benjamin Kean Travel Fellowship, and ASMTH more generally, this experience would not be possible.

Describe some of your most memorable travel or work experiences.
I am applying for a medical residency in Pediatrics and intend to specialize in Infectious Disease. Given my love of both research and clinical practice, I hope to combine them into an integrated career. Eventually, I would like to have a lab focused on translational medicine. I believe that basic science research should not only impact individual clinical practice, but should also influence and challenge public health policy, another interest of mine. In addition, I am passionate about clinical medicine and the personal interaction involved in caring for an individual patient. I hope to develop a career that will allow me to continue this portion of my work. Finally, I plan to spend a significant portion of my career working and living abroad, directly involved in tropical medicine.

Nothing has expanded my personal horizons more than travel. My first real travel adventure followed my graduation from high school. I flew to Turkey and joined my sister. We spent the next few months backpacking along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, writing about restaurants, hotels, and sites for the guidebook "Let’s Go Turkey." I was introduced to a new kind of travel--that of the wanderer and the adventurer.

From that experience I realized that travel could include a short-term living opportunity. I moved to London for a summer to work in PET imaging. That exeperience allowed me to venture further--moving to Nairobi, Kenya for the summer after my first year of medical school. It was a challenging experience--physically and emotionally--but rewarding. I gained first-hand knowledge of the consequences of the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. I met some of the most joyful people I have known, and I came to understand that that illness does not define a child and that circumstances do not determine our potential for happiness.

My attention is focused towards South East Asia, more specifically Thailand. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to explore my academic interests, malaria and pregnancy, in this setting.

What advice would you give to those just entering school or trying to determine their specialty or field of interest?

"I was a neurobiologist who fell in love with

maternal-infant medicine and tropical disease."

Explore, explore, explore! Try as many new activities, experiences, classes, and internships as possible. You never know what you might fall in love with. I was a neurobiologist who fell in love with maternal-infant medicine and tropical disease. I can now think of nothing more exciting than mulling over questions about infectious disease and immunology at the maternal-fetal interface. Your ideas, thoughts, interests, and future career will continually change, develop, and morph into something new. Don’t be surprised by it. Dream up your ideal career, and then figure out what path will take you there, rather than being committed to the pre-set outcome of a training pathway. Fall in love with something. When you find something you’re passionate about, you will know it. When you do find it, hold on tight and enjoy the ride!