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Amy Beeson

'It’s powerful to see people getting better over days, weeks, and months'

(May 2017) In Peru, Amy Beeson’s uncertainty about a career in medicine fell aside while she worked in the impoverished outskirts of Lima.

While there, Beeson helped with after-school classes, taught children to swim, and participated in research with tuberculosis and HIV patients with Partners in Health. By the end of her year in South America, Beeson was certain that she wanted to work to improve health care delivery, “particularly for the most marginalized communities.”

Beeson entered CU School of Medicine in 2012. During her third year rotations at Denver Health, she again saw patients struggling with health care access, and she decided she wanted another opportunity to take part in global health delivery research before she entered residency training.

In 2015, Beeson applied for a Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship, imagining a return to Latin America. Instead, the foundation offered a spot in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

There, she lived for a year on a rural hospital compound and worked with community health workers at a local non-governmental organization, a role that was familiar from her time in Peru where such workers are known as promotoras.

The community health workers performed home-based screening for a variety of common illnesses and accompanied neighbors, friends and family, particularly those with chronic and complex illnesses, to clinic. They also helped to address the barriers that families face, such as the fear of stigma, and educated patients about disease prevention and treatment.

 “It’s a model I really love,” said Beeson, 28, who received a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard College in 2010.  “I think we ask far too much of people with chronic diseases. To get to clinic in South Africa, some walk all day, in some cases maybe tens of kilometers. They spend whole days waiting in line. Sometimes they’re told to wait in a separate line if they have HIV. In contrast, community health workers knock on the door and offer a listening ear, essential preventive care, and accompaniment.”

Beeson witnessed cases of patients with advanced disease that she knew could have been prevented with earlier interventions.

“By adopting a patient-centered approach, you hope to reach people earlier and prevent that nadir. To me, that’s the best kind of medicine.”

She also witnessed the power of antiretroviral and anti-tuberculosis medicines to reverse the course of a disease.

“It’s powerful to see people getting better over days, weeks, and months.”

She feels pulled to return to South Africa, where she found mentors who have worked with the community for decades. “They are just incredibly resilient and dedicated and have a very broad base of skills. They’re a great inspiration.”

“But wherever I’ve been last is where I want to go back and work,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not certain where I’ll end up in the long term.”

The next few years are settled. Beeson, a Gold Humanism inductee and 2016 recipient of the St. Geme Medical Student Award for Outstanding Research in Pediatrics, will serve her residency in the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Combined Internal Medicine-Pediatric Residency Program.

“I was one of those people who liked everything in third year. But I am hopeful that med-peds training will be good preparation to work in low-resource setting, whether in the Southwest (U.S.) or internationally. Ideally, I would like to partner with communities to provide primary care for children and adults living with HIV and other chronic diseases.”