The importance of mentorship and teamwork: an interview with medical student Kathryn Taylor

August 18, 2016
Kathryn Taylor

Kathryn Taylor is a medical student at Harvard, Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellow, Paul Farmer Global Surgery Fellow and Fulbright Fellow.

What is your current position?

I am currently between my third and fourth year of medical school. I will be spending this upcoming year working in Kigali, Rwanda supported through a Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship. There, I will be researching surgical education in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), app-based learning tools, research capacity in LMICs, and defining value in surgery in LMICs.

Can you tell us about your career path?

I went to Ohio State University for my undergraduate degree, where I studied biology. There, I helped found the Ohio State chapter of an organization called Project Nicaragua. Through Project Nicaragua, I spent two weeks every year working in a rural village at an agricultural and technical school. After graduating from Ohio State, I spent a year in Honduras with an organization called Helping Babies Breathe where I worked as a research associate studying the implementation of their curriculum teaching neonatal resuscitation in low-resource settings. I lived in a rural village and worked in a local clinic where I taught health care providers the curriculum and studied how they used it following deliveries. 

After my year in Honduras, I returned to the US for medical school and planned to pursue a career in global oncology. After my first year of medical school, I wanted to work with Partners in Health in their oncology program and spent two months over the summer in the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda studying the adverse effects of chemotherapy. After that first experience in Rwanda, I planned to work in global pediatric oncology for my career. During my general surgery rotation during my third year of medical school, I realized I wanted to be a general surgeon and pursue a career in global surgery. I applied to the Program of Global Surgery and Social Change, and that’s how I got connected to the research group I will work with in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Can you share your top career goal?

My goal is to become a general surgeon and make a career in global surgery. I hope to to practice out of an academic center that allows me to have an ongoing relationship with an international institution. Basically, I want to be like Dr. Robert Riviello [who taught in GHDI]!

What is the biggest challenge you face in meeting your goal?

The biggest challenge I have faced is that there are very few faculty mentors in global surgery while there is a huge level of interest among medical students and residents. The faculty I have worked with in global surgery are amazing, but there are a lot of competing interests for their time. Even more than that, being a woman pursuing global general surgery presents a different set of challenges. Finding a female mentor within global surgery can be difficult. However, there are a lot more female residents in surgery now so this situation will look different for medical students in the future. Luckily, I have a wonderful team through the PGSSC and the mentorship has been excellent. I hope to mentor to medical students interested in global surgery in the future.

What impact do you think GHDI will have on your career?

I feel incredibly lucky to be doing GHDI at the beginning of my global health and global surgery career because I am learning a lot of principles and tools I can apply right away. All the students have a great range of experiences that they bring to class and I have learned so much from them. They share challenges they have been struggling with for years and discuss specific tools to address these challenges. On a practical level, I am learning concrete research skills (e.g., STATA and different research methodologies) that I will be able to start using this year in the field.

GHDI has also been a good forum for exposure to fields in global health I haven’t spent much time in, such as HIV or Tuberculosis, which are huge topics in global health that I just haven’t had much exposure to because of the nature of the projects I have worked on so far. I have also been able to connect to people through my GHDI classmates and I am starting to build a network of colleagues in global health.

What are you most proud of?

I’m still most proud of my work with Project Nicaragua. It has had a lasting effect on all the people involved in its founding, as well as generations of Ohio State students behind us. It shaped who I am, during an age where I was developing my own career interests and figuring out what type of work I am interested in. When we started the group, we recognized the fact that we weren’t medical professionals. We focused on the skills we had to offer and how to make a difference by engaging with the community to understand their needs and goals. We took an economic development route focused on projects the community wanted, and I am so proud of the work we have done. Project Nicaragua also created a community of like-minded individuals, which felt very important at a big school. I was seen as a leader in this group, so I am proud that I was able to serve as a mentor to other people. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in health care in your country?

I would tell global health students that finding a good mentor is more important than finding a good project. I would also tell them working in an area you are passionate about and letting that affect everything in your life, is much more important than checking boxes that you think are necessary to be a certain type of person. Finally, humility and flexibility are often an under-appreciated quality in global health. Working as a team is so important and more effective in global health, and each person has a role to play. And this work can be unpredictable, so you have to be ready to adapt quickly.