Michelle Beam

Michelle Beam

Michelle Beam graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a degree in Microbiology. After a short time conducting laboratory research, she decided to pursue a Masters in Public Health in Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at University of California, Berkeley. At UC Berkeley she discovered passions for community health, health equity, and the public understanding of science.

Working for the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, she learned how international health organizations work to support global health efforts, but was left with strong desire to contribute to public health at the community level.

As a medical student at Oregon Health & Science University, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of multidisciplinary health team and get her hands dirty in community-based neurocysticercosis research which seeks to understand how the interrupt transmission of this endemic tropical disease.

Peru Flag

Project: "Neurocysticercosis and Headache: HARDSHIP Questionnaire Validation for a Community-Based Survey in Tumbes, Peru"
June 24, 2014 - August 7, 2014
Tumbes, Peru

What does the Kean Fellowship mean to you?
I have been privileged to have my worldview and aspirations expanded by some of today’s leading educators, researchers and clinicians working in the field of tropical and infectious disease. Just as Dr. Kean inspired his students to extend their interest in neglected infectious diseases, passionate health professionals in tropical medicine have taken time to share their enthusiasm for improving the lives and health of people with me. This mentorship has changed my life. It is an honor to receive an award in the name of of a man who sought to support this same interest and passion in his own students.

As someone who has been interested in infectious disease from a young age and over time has grown to appreciate how work in tropical and neglected infectious disease spans the work of social justice and health, receiving the Kean Fellowship is an incredible honor. To have the opportunity to explore a passionate interest in this work is a gift that will help me to continue learning, working, and contributing to the world in this unique field. I am very grateful to be extending my curiosity in tropical medicine this support of the Kean Fellowship.

What do you anticipate learning?
I anticipate that the experience of working with the multidisciplinary Cysticercosis Working Group in northern coastal Peru will help me draw links between a number of fields that can often feel disparate in the US. I hope that I will be able to apply my background in molecular biology, science education, epidemiology, and clinical medicine to this community-based research and disease prevention project.

Just as the drivers of Cysticercosis endemicity are not confined to a single discipline or sector, the solutions span many fields. I anticipate that I will learn from the process of solving problems across sectors and disciplines during my time in rural Peru. This learning will give me a better understanding of effective strategies for implementing community-based public health research and help me understand how I can contribute to this work beyond my medical education. Beyond the in-country experience with the Working Group, I think my experience in Peru will further develop my understanding of how to foster long-standing international research collaborations.

What interests you about tropical medicine and what problems are you interested in solving?
“I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where the edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one.”
–Anne Fadiman, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down"

I want to pursue purposeful research with a practical application. I believe that in research, it is tantamount to ask the questions of who the research is serving and how it can realistically be applied to better the health of populations. Without providing concrete answers to these questions, we run the risk of participating in and perpetuating science and medicine that serves the special interests of few, rather than using science to benefit the lives and health of underserved populations who seek to benefit the most from well-directed research.

Tropical medicine interests me because it is a field that lies at intersections. It is a field that acknowledges the necessity of cross-disciplinary problem solving for long-lasting solutions to health problems. In tropical medicine, individual health is seen in context of community health and broader social and political structures. Solutions involve the integration of public health, environmental health, clinical medicine, veterinary medicine, economics and public policy.

I am interested in working to improve population and individual health. I’m interested in solving problems where both diseases and the people they affect have been pushed to the margins of research agendas and society. The problems that I am truly interested in solving are:

  • How do you bring attention to diseases and people who have not been undervalued in research agendas? 
  • How do can you approach infectious disease prevention efforts in ways that respect and leverage local knowledge and experience? 
  • How do you interrupt transmission of a disease that is driven by human migration, lack of sanitation infrastructure, long-standing agricultural practices, and poverty?