Spencer is a second-year medical student at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Rhode Island. Here was born and raised in Rhode Island, but has always been adventurous and willing to explore, which translated into a love of travel and becoming immersed in different cultures. He attended Brown University for undergrad to study biology and since then has been interested in global health and tropical medicine. He studied abroad in Denmark and Costa Rica on health and tropical disease-focused programs and before medical school, lived in Taiwan for a year as an English teacher. He loves hiking and being outside when he can, but also enjoys being inside watching Netflix on a rainy day. Spencer is outgoing and loves doing activities with old and new friends (going to the beach, watching TV, baking, camping, etc.). He said he is currently conflicted about what specialty to go into, but knows he will spend his life dedicated to serving those in LMICs and experiencing cultures other than his own, always in search of new understanding.
Outcomes of Schistosomiasis and Hookworm Infections on Maternal and Child Health
Schistosomiasis Control and Research Hospital
What does the Kean Fellowship mean to you?
I am so grateful to have been chosen as a Kean Fellow for this year. The Ben Kean will provide a unique opportunity for me to go to The Philippines and research schistosomiasis in pregnant women and its effects on their children, which will dovetail well with my past experiences in tropical medicine and working with children to enrich my medical school education in invaluable ways. The costs of medical school are so high, and this fellowship makes it possible for me to carry out this important research when I otherwise would not have. The connections that this fellowship provides in and beyond ASTMH are unparalleled. Being able to attend the ASTMH conference and hear from esteemed leaders in the field will enrich my education and expose me to what I could do in my career. Tropical medicine feels a little more specific and hidden in the United States, when in reality there are many physicians and researchers working to solve complex tropical medicine problems in every country. ASTMH and the Ben Kean will provide me with a centralized area of support to stem out from to build a career connected to those that are already the pioneers in the field.
What do you anticipate learning?
One part of the fellowship is the complimentary registration to the ASTMH Annual Meeting, which I am very much excited about. I attended one ASTMH conference in 2017 and I learned an immense amount about what the leaders have been doing in their fields in tropical medicine. I look forward to seeing the certain progress made on various projects and what advancements have taken place since 2017. Tropical medicine is a fast-paced field, and each conference is brand new and has lots of new groundbreaking research endeavors being shared. The second main part of the fellowship is the airfare to travel to the research site to carry out the proposed research project. Since my project takes place at a research site in The Philippines, which is on the other side of the world, I would not have been able to finance a trip there and the research may not have ever been conducted. However, because of the Ben Kean, I can go to The Philippines and do this exciting work. Doing this work remotely is valuable, but being on-site at the research center is another thing entirely. I hope to learn more about the people of Leyte, The Philippines, and the culture there. Part of this experience for me will be getting to know locals and the impact that schistosomiasis has on their everyday life. I hope I can learn about how and why schistosomiasis in mothers during pregnancy leads to worse birth outcomes for babies at the baseline, but also how they live and work on a day-to-day basis. Being immersed in the culture during this experience at a homestay will allow me to get to know some of the local people of Leyte, which I am looking forward to just as much as the actual research.
What interests you about tropical medicine and what problems are you interested in solving?
Since my time as an undergraduate, I have been interested in tropical medicine and global health. I took a course called Conservation Medicine at Brown, and I fell in love with learning about tropical diseases. I wanted to study their mechanisms and the people/cultures that experience them. Freshman year, I became the President of MEDLIFE and I went to Cusco, Peru, where I helped provide sustainable healthcare to people in rural villages in the Andes. I completed a tropical disease focused study-abroad program in Costa Rica through the Organization for Tropical Studies. I lived and worked in field stations in Costa Rica, where I conducted a study on Chagas disease. My experiences living, studying and working abroad in the tropics were pivotal for me, and I plan to continue this kind of tropical medicine research and global work in my career as a physician. I spent the year before starting medical school as an English teacher in Taiwan, so the natural fit for me was to develop a project dealing with tropical medicine and child health. This led me to my current mentor, who has done research on schistosomiasis in pregnant women and children in Leyte, The Philippines, for over a decade. I am hoping this can continue to be a longitudinal mentorship so that we can work together throughout my time in medical school to solve the problems of schistosomiasis and other types of worms in mothers having a worse outcome for their babies. Eventually, we will develop educational materials for use in Leyte and beyond that will ideally allow pregnant women to be more aware of their parasites, get treated to the best of their abilities and have better outcomes for the baby. Maternal and child health is something that permeates several fields as well, so the experiences I have with this project will be helpful for any specialty I eventually go into for residency.