Erika Phelps Nishiguchi

Erika Phelps Nishiguchi

Erika Phelps Nishiguchi is originally from the Smoky Mountains outside of Maryville, Tennessee, although her childhood homes notably included rural Uganda. Her international background made global health an important career interest from an early age. She added an extra year to high school in order to attend Li Po Chun United World College in Hong Kong, where she lived and worked with inspirational young people from around the globe set on making the world a better place. Erika then attended Earlham College, where she majored in biology and chemistry supplemented by courses in bioethics, East African history, and medical anthropology. She took a leave of absence to participate in a public health service learning project in Tanzania which inspired her to develop an agriculture and maternal health project in collaboration with contacts in Uganda the following year. Erika spent her summers conducting malaria research at the National Institutes of Health and then transitioned to a year-long post-baccalaureate fellowship focused on emerging malaria parasite resistance to anti-malarials in Cambodia.

Torn by interests in public health, agriculture, public policy, research, and caring for the sick, Erika decided to attend medical school, hoping that as a physician she could find a way to tie all her passions together. At Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she was a leader of the Global Health and Physicians and Social Responsibility Interest Groups. She is honored to be a 2014 Kean Fellow and is looking forward to a career as a pediatrician focused on global child health.

Project: "Can Quantitative HRP-2 levels Predict Malaria as the Primary Source of Morbidity in Febrile Patients?"
February 16, 2015 - May 1, 2015
Blantyre, Malawi


What does the Kean Fellowship mean to you?
Due to my interest in global health and tropical disease research, I met with Dr. Terrie Taylor and Dr. Karl Seydel in my first year of medical school to plan a meaningful international research experience. We decided that it would be best to commit three blocks of my fourth year to a research project in their renowned malaria program. I have greatly anticipated this project every since. I worried about how to fund the experience and have tried saving some of each semester's loans. As debt piled on and very little was available to add to my Malawi fund, I thought I would have to take out extra loans in my fourth year. Receiving the Kean Fellowship has lifted a tremendous weight from my shoulders financially. More importantly, the fellowship reminds me that my aspirations are shared and supported by a community that is committed, like I am, to improving global health and research disparities.

What do you anticipate learning?
I have conducted a fair amount of bench laboratory research, but have not yet been involved in any clinical research. The project I will be working on with the support of the Kean Fellowship will bridge clinical medicine and laboratory research. Through my project, I will brush up on old skills I had developed prior to medical school, put into practice my new knowledge and clinical skills, and learn how they can complement each other. Furthermore, I will be working alongside many other researchers and physicians involved in a myriad of projects. I view this as an excellent opportunity to network and learn about the potential directions my career in global health can take.

What interests you about tropical medicine and what problems are you interested in solving?
Although I am interested in health disparities and the challenges of health care provision in impoverished areas, what drives me is the lack of knowledge or interest in diseases that we don't face in the US. I ended up purely by luck born into an American family. By choice, my family lived in conditions most of the world lives in, yet ones that our neighbors cannot imagine.

I feel compelled to use the privilege of my education and training to learn about diseases that have been overlooked. I was initially interested in malaria because I knew people who suffered from HIV/AIDS and malaria, but HIV/AIDS had always been in the limelight. Malaria holds many secrets to be discovered, and I am interested to branch into neglected disease research now that malaria has also attracted the world's attention.