KU School of Medicine–Wichita
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214
May 28, 2020
By Brian Whepley
For Chandra Swanson, M.D., who'll soon begin her pediatrics residency at Children's Mercy in Kansas City, the effort and experiences she put into earning Global Scholar Distinction helped focus her vision of the work she'll do as a doctor.
"Coming into medical school I knew I wanted to do something to keep my interest in global health moving forward," said Swanson, a Prairie Village resident who attended an international school in New Mexico before earning degrees in evolutionary anthropology and global health at Duke University.
She'd thought a globe-spanning organization like Doctors Without Borders might be her call, and it still could be. But her med school course selection, service and volunteer work, and a monthlong program in Argentina in February - all endeavors the Global Scholars Distinction Program recognizes - helped broaden her understanding of underserved populations and, in a sense, bring it closer to home.
"I think the program reminded me that I can still do a lot of global health work in a local area," Swanson said. "There are opportunities to stay in the U.S. and do that."
The program is run out of the Kansas City campus by Maria Alonso Luaces, Ph.D., director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and Kimberly Connelly, KUMC senior international officer and director of the Office of International Programs. This year's class was the second to qualify for the honor, with five getting the recognition. Swanson is the first KU School of Medicine-Wichita graduate to satisfy the requirements.
The honor brings a notation on their degrees and recognizes students who have studied and worked in a variety of cultures and underserved communities. It's available across all three KU School of Medicine campuses to not just physicians but also to those in nursing and other health professions, and to those earning a master's in public health or other graduate degree.
To qualify, students earn points in four categories: academics; away experiences (both near and far); activities with a leadership role; and service outside school where they interact with vulnerable populations. In addition, they assemble a portfolio and write a reflection paper.
"It is an effort to recognize a student who went above and beyond to work with underserved communities. We never had a way to recognize those before," said Alonso Luaces, who teaches medical Spanish to students at all campuses.
And though the "global" conjures thoughts of abroad, experiences closer to home are an emphasis as well, because rural and urban areas are underserved and rife with health disparities. So, a student can do an elective fourth-year rotation in an underserved area of Kansas and qualify as a Global Scholar.
"Our dream is that these types of experiences really put our students with a different way of seeing the world and other experiences. It opens their minds and eyes and develops creativity. We really need creative thinkers to come together and solve our global health issues," Connelly said.
"The goal of going to all of those locations is the same: What can you learn from others, from their strengths or weaknesses," Connelly said.
Swanson's service work included JayDoc Community Clinic, both in Wichita and Kansas City, and BullDoc, a clinic at Wyandotte High School. In Argentina, in the central city of Córdoba, Swanson spent two weeks on a pediatrics floor, then two in a neurology clinic. Taking part, she said, wouldn't have been possible without financial assistance from the Office of International Programs and a grant from a new fund on the Wichita campus, The Bridget Harrison, M.D., International Travel Award.
"I definitely came back humbled in my Spanish-speaking abilities, but I also came back more confident in my ability to speak with patients in basic Spanish," said Swanson, adding that she gained an appreciation of the different ways medicine can be practiced, from rounds to how medical teams are structured. "It reinforced my desire to work with global and underserved populations. Walking into the ward in Argentina was the most unprepared I ever felt. They were just like, ‘show up,' but it gave me a better ability to walk into uncertain situations."
In residency at Children's Mercy, she'll work in the CHICOS Clinic, a facility for Spanish speakers that is one of the few programs where residents train in a bilingual environment.
"She honed her passion while in medical school, combining her love for serving others with her passion for pediatrics," Alonso Luaces said.
The Bridget Harrison, M.D., International Travel Award was established by Carolyn and Paul Harrison, M.D., in memory of their daughter, a KUSM-Wichita graduate who died at a young age. If interested in contributing to the fund, contact Brad Rukes, KU Endowment development director for the Wichita campus, at 316-293-2641 or email@example.com.
Above: A young patient in Córdoba, Argentina, wrote a "gracias" to doctors before her discharge from the children's hospital.KU School of Medicine-Wichita