Like many young students who know they want to become doctors, Ramya Mishra sought the company of health care professionals before entering medical school.
She volunteered for two years in the Exempla Lutheran Medical Center emergency department in Wheat Ridge while attending the Colorado School of Mines.
“All my expectations were confirmed,” she says. “I knew that this would be what I would be happiest doing.”
And then for something completely different, she traveled to Bihar, an Indian state where her extended family lives - near Bangladesh and Nepal. There she trailed village physicians for a summer, watching them deal with exotic and mundane ailments.
The experience was so gratifying that she joined the Global Health Track when she came to the CU School of Medicine.
After her first year, Mishra returned to India, traveling to New Delhi with classmate Matt Leroue to do research with Operation ASHA, a non-profit group based in New Delhi.
“We went there to study their TB treatment in slum communities,” says Mishra, 26. “It’s pretty novel. They’ve taken the World Health Organization protocol for delivery of TB treatments and expanded and improved it.”
Local community members are trained to go into homes and deliver medications to TB patients. That approach ensures that people take their medicine and de-stigmatizes the disease, which can develop drug-resistant strains when patients interrupt treatment.
“It’s like a death sentence there,” Mishra says. “People will shun them, so they’re afraid to tell anyone they have the disease. You can lose your job because people think it’s so contagious.”
Mishra and LeRoue’s work compared treatment outcomes between the national TB program and that of Operation ASHA.
“We saw a significant statistical difference and improvement with (most) Operation ASHA centers,” she says.
Entering medical school, she had a hunch that she wanted to be a pediatrician, but she decided to keep an open mind. “It’s not like I dislike adults,” she says with a laugh. Her hunch became more of a certainty as she continued working with the medically underserved.
Once a week at Warren Village in Denver, a group of CU med students treat children of single parents, and it was there that Mishra began to appreciate the ability of her preceptor, pediatrician Leigh Anne Bakel, MD, to connect with children and their parents.
“She knew how to get the family to warm up and how to get children to trust her. You have to see those things. They can’t be taught in the classroom.”
Mishra was a student manager at the clinic for three years.
“We are fortunate to be able to go there during first year. You’re not yet adept at anything clinical, like how to take a history or do a physical. It’s an amazing experience.”
Mishra, who would like to specialize in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, will spend her residency at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. She says she and her fiancé, a Mumbai native she met at School of Mines, would consider someday returning to India.
“Most of us in the global track would love to serve in areas with high needs and low access,” she says.