Srijana and Sujata Bhattarai Chhetri: Sisters, Roommates and 2023 Kean Fellows

Posted 14 February 2024

Srijana (right) and Sujata Bhattarai Chhetri are sisters with much more in common than a surname. The roommates both attend University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, share an interest in studying tropical medicine, are ASTMH members and were selected as Kean Fellows for 2023.

 "It was partly coincidence because we both had different mentors and were exploring opportunities on how we could be involved in global health and later on how we could get funding," they told ASTMH. "But because many PIs in that lab are active members of ASTMH community and have mentored many other students before, they were familiar with this fellowship."

Through the Kean Fellowship, they are pursuing projects in two different countries. Sujata’s project is titled, Epidemiology of pediatric severe malaria in the Kasese District of western Uganda, while Srijana’s project is, Burden of Arbovirus Diseases among Acute Febrile Illnesses in Cameroon. The Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine is awarded annually by ASTMH to support medical students involved in clinical or research electives in tropical areas. 

How is it that both of you ended up studying the same subject?
We both were born in Nepal and spent our childhood there until we moved when we were 11 (Srijana) and 9 (Sujata). Srijana was interested in medicine due to her interest in infectious disease (more specifically tropical medicine) and its higher prevalence in low- and middle-income countries, including Nepal, which eventually led her to pursue medicine.

Our interests are similar because, being from Nepal, we saw the differences in healthcare in Nepal and the U.S., which piqued our interest. Naturally, we both applied to the global health scholarly concentration at UNC, which made us explore different projects for the summer after our first year of med school. 

How did both of you apply for the Kean Fellowship in the same year?
There is a lab at UNC named IDEEL (Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Ecology Lab), where many physicians/scientists specifically focus on infectious diseases all around the globe. Srijana was working in malaria research during her undergraduate and gap years before medical school in that lab and knew a few mentors, including ASTMH members Jonathan Juliano, MD, MSPH, FASTMH, and Jessica Lin, MD, MSCR.  When looking for opportunity to do global health work, her mentors for her summer project on investigating arbovirus seroprevalence advised her to look into the Kean Fellowship.

Sujata found out through her mentor, ASTMH member Ross Boyce, MD, MSc, who encouraged her to apply. Of course, we both told each other as well and were aware we were both applying.

How is being a member of ASTMH assisting you with your career/professional ambitions?
ASTMH has most importantly helped us explore the different fields within tropical medicine, as we both are trying to decide how exactly we want to be involved in global health in the future. In addition, finding mentors who are who are passionate about what they do and getting to see firsthand the work they are doing globally was very inspiring.