All posts by suechoi4

In Reflection: Mongolian Health Initiative

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After a full summer as a research intern for the Mongolian Health Initiative (MHI), my time in Mongolia has finally drawn to a close and I am back in New Orleans reflecting on the amazing lessons I learned this summer. Regarding my first learning objective of obtaining knowledge regarding breast cancer risk factors in rural and urban regions, I was able to gain a great deal of knowledge about vitamin D concentrations in rural and urban areas and its relationship with various prenatal risk factors which are, transitively, related to breast cancer risk factors. I had  discussions with MHI employees about the various initiatives that MHI has helped establish in Mongolia, such as the Zero TB Initiative, which is a global initiative working against tuberculosis. This initiative is especially necessary in a country burdened by tuberculosis such as Mongolia. In speaking with MHI researchers about initiatives such as this, as well as the ongoing clinical TB trial in Mongolia, I was able to obtain knowledge regarding tuberculosis infection in school-aged children, particularly in high-risk nations, which was my second learning objective. I gained practical research skills in that I gained a thorough introduction to biostatistics and various research databases, as well as on methodology in finding relevant scientific literature. I also worked a great deal with data tables and data analyses, which was a realm of research that I had never been as very familiar with. In working with my supervisor, I was able to learn about the methodology and protocol for a number of clinical trials that MHI is currently working on, such as the TB clinical trial, as well as the vitamin D trial. During my time as an MHI intern, I was able to interact with women leaders in the STEM fields, many of whom are doing trailblazing research in Mongolia for and with Mongolian women. This not only gave me personal applications and insight into what it means to be a woman leader in the STEM fields, but also on what it means to be a working woman in general. There was a powerful sense of collaboration and camaraderie in the MHI workplace.    

My internship experience at MHI will be an experience that I build off during the rest of my time at Tulane and beyond as I continue to explore and pursue medical and public health research. This experience has also grown my interest in and passion for cross cultural research, which is a field I feel that my background can greatly aid me in. I hope to continue to be able to advocate for and with women, particularly across cultures and in the health sector.

Having now completed my internship, I have found a great need to be equipped with a thorough understanding of biostatistics in the research field. I am thus currently enrolled in a biostatistics class and am excited to apply what I learn in future research endeavours. I would like to take on more public health research experiences, particularly cross cultural public health research. This experience, in its cross-cultural nature, taught me so much about communication, collaboration, and about what public health research means in both urban and rural areas and countries. Due to this overseas research experience, I have also gained a great interest in medical sociology, another class that I am currently involved in. Through it, I hope to learn more about health disparities, global health, and how medical/public health research can become a more equitable and accessible tool around the world.

To a student interested in an internship at the Mongolian Health Initiative or simply in public health or cross cultural research in general, I would emphasize how important it is to go into the experience with an open mind. Due to the variable nature of research, particularly in a culture that may have a different approach to research than one might be accustomed to, it is so important to remain flexible, teachable, and humble. I learned most in the moments when I lay down my pride and learned new ways with an open mind and good humor. Lastly, work well and work hard – be confident in what you do know and be open to learn about what you don’t know.

My philosophy of women being a necessary and powerful force in the STEM fields was definitely reinforced during my interactions with incredible women researchers at MHI. I have learned that so much about finding leadership is about being certain and proud of personal skills and talents while also always being open to learn and change and grow and collaborate. The women I met at MHI are all incredibly hardworking, intelligent, and humble – they have a clear sense of their identity in the workplace and in their respective fields.  

Throughout this internship, I have become more comfortable with creative problem solving. I have found that in my experiences over this past summer, being an effective problem solver involves being able to work independently, confident in the knowledge and skills that I already own, while also being teachable and knowing when and in what areas to be able to ask for help. I have found that this work – both public health research in particular as well as women working together in general – is only truly effective when genuine trust and collaboration are present.

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Midpoint: Mongolian Health Initiative

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I am at the halfway point of my internship and can confidently say that this internship has challenged and grown my perspectives and research abilities like never before. My learning objectives for this internship were:

  1. Obtain knowledge regarding breast cancer risk factors in rural and urban regions
  2. Obtain knowledge regarding tuberculosis infection in school-aged children, particularly in high-risk nations
  3. Learn and apply relevant research methodologies, and gain practical research skills
  4. Gain exposure to clinical research trials, and understand the protocol and methods that it requires
  5. Gain personal applications on what it means to be a woman leader in the STEM fields

I have definitely progressed in these objectives, the first two mostly during my conversations with Mongolian Health Initiative (MHI) researchers. These conversations have been some of the highlights of my internship, as it has given me both a general and specific look at the public health issues facing Mongolia today, and what MHI is doing about them. In my day-to-day responsibilities, I have grown most in the last three objectives. I have found that, on the daily, research is less about the big issue (though it is certainly important to always keep it in mind), and much more about the small tasks. I have been able to monitor my progress and growth by a) the incredible amount of information I have gained regarding Mongolian public health issues, b) the methods and research skills I have gained, particularly in the area of biostatistics and data analysis, and c) the perspectives on being a woman leader in the STEM fields I have gained through my conversations with the incredible female researchers and role models at MHI.

I am currently working on a research article on Vitamin D concentrations in pregnant women, which has required a great deal of data analysis. As I’ve not yet taken biostatistics, these analyses were challenging and oftentimes frustrating to interpret, but I am proud of powering through and asking for help when necessary.  In working on this project, I have learned that research is not just about doing the work itself, but so much more about figuring out how to do the work. This is something that I didn’t realize was such a big part of researchers’ work, and something that I feel I have been able to grow in through this internship. Through this internship, I have learned that it is important to remain humble, and that being teachable is a sign of strength, not weakness, because teachable people have a greater capacity to learn and improve.

This internship has helped me develop as a female leader by allowing me to be in an environment filled with incredible women researchers, as well as by working on a project that directly impacts women’s lives. This has given me incredible perspective on how significant it is to be a woman working empowering other women through healthcare – something that I hadn’t realized I was passionate about until put into an environment where I was able to help in projects that are doing just that.

I am building research and data analysis skills through this internship that will directly help me in my hope to further pursue medical and public health research, as well as research in my college academics. I have also learned a great deal about taking the initiative and networking within a professional community, which is undoubtedly relevant in both academia and in a medical center (where I hope to work in the future). All in all, this internship has taught me and challenged me a great deal, and I have been very thankful for this opportunity.

Getting Started: Mongolian Health Initiative

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My summer research internship with the Mongolian Health Initiative officially started when I arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia during the first week of July. However, as I had been in contact with my supervisor and the organization, I began some work and preparation remotely during the month of June. As such, I was able to feel adequately familiar with the organization and my research topic, and much of my work since I’ve arrived has been a continuation of the work I began in June. The internship site I am at is called the Mongolian Health Initiative (MHI), and it is located in Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital city of Mongolia. It was founded by my supervisor, Dr. Ganmaa Davasambuu, and consists of an association of physicians, scientists, epidemiologists, and policy experts. MHI’s purpose is the work towards advancing Mongolian public health through research and policy implementation. The organization has conducted the most extensive nutritional assessment on Mongolian adults to date and has ongoing training and research in micronutrients, nutritional intervention, and maternal health studies, including the ones of which I am a part.

My internship responsibilities require me  to be flexible to the needs of the study and my supervisor, which reflects the variable nature of fieldwork and research. As of now,, my responsibilities have included a) reviewing relevant literature and studies to familiarize myself with the research topic, b) reading and organizing data collected for the study a for publication, and c) writing the draft paper based on the data. As this is a fairly extensive study, I anticipate my responsibility to remain fairly focused in these three areas for the remainder of my internship.

As I was researching summer internship opportunities during the semester, I was introduced to this internship with MHI by an individual who had previously interned for Dr. Ganmaa Davaasambuu, my supervisor. I emailed Dr. Ganmaa, introduced myself, expressed interest in interning for her during the summer, and attached a resume. She responded positively, and after several emails back and forth, she accepted me as a research intern. As far as tips on securing an internship, I would emphasize how important it is to be genuinely passionate about the research being conducted! Enthusiasm and sincerity gives a great first impression, and is, of course, imperative during the internship itself.

While the first week has been largely a continuation the work I was doing remotely, it has also been growing and challenging in new ways. It has taught me to stay on my toes and be available to adapt to any situation, as projects and plans are always shifting. This has especially been true because I am a research intern at an organization where there is no official summer internship program for undergraduate students. This first week has taught me how to be both communicative and independent as a great deal of my assigned work has minimal instructions, which has allowed me to grow in my problem solving skills.  When communication has been unclear or delayed, I am learning to take the initiative more often.

This summer, I expect to learn a great deal about my study topics: a) breast cancer risk factors in urban and rural areas and b) tuberculosis and vitamin D supplementation. I also expect to learn and grow in my personal research skills, including the hands-on aspects as well as the logistics of working and collaborating in a research environment. I hope to gain exposure to research methods and take away personal applications. Already, I have found that I am learning more about data analysis, organization, and scientific publication. I’m excited for this coming month and all that this internship has to offer!

Looking Forward: Mongolian Health Initiative

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My name is Sue Choi, and I am a rising junior, majoring in Studio Art on a premedical track. I am of South Korean heritage, and grew up in California, Mongolia, Germany, and now, New Orleans. Being in New Orleans and at Tulane, I’ve particularly been impacted by the ways in which I’ve been challenged to think broader and more empathetically in regards to community engagement. On campus, I’m involved on the EBoard of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on Campus and the Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPS). I am also in the process of starting a student organization, the Tulane Green Medicine Initiative, which seeks to promote sustainable healthcare practices locally and globally.

Growing up under physician parents who are greatly involved in public health issues, I have always had a great interest in and appreciation for public health research. This summer, thanks to this grant, I have the opportunity to work as a research intern for the Mongolian Health Initiative (MHI) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, studying the risk of breast cancer among urban and rural Mongolian women and the prevention of tuberculosis (TB) infection among school-aged children. Mongolia is currently in a “transition stage” wherein both infectious and noninfectious diseases are a significant health burden, and thus, my research in Mongolia on TB and on breast cancer will uniquely allow me to study both infectious and noninfectious disease.  

My internship aligns with the mission of the Newcomb College Institute (NCI) to educate women for leadership through research and community engagement, and to produce knowledge about and for women’s issues. I am committed to developing myself as a leader, as well as to seeking opportunities that empower other women to become leaders. I hope that going into this internship with my learning objectives in mind will allow me to cultivate myself and contribute to the project in a meaningful, intentional way.

My five learning objectives for this internship are:

  1. Obtain knowledge regarding breast cancer risk factors in rural and urban regions
  2. Obtain knowledge regarding tuberculosis infection in school-aged children, particularly in high-risk nations
  3. Learn and apply relevant research methodologies, and gain practical research skills
  4. Gain exposure to clinical research trials, and understand the protocol and methods that it requires
  5. Gain personal applications on what it means to be a woman leader in the STEM fields

According to the National Cancer Institute, ⅛ of women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. As the most common form of cancer among women across all ethnicities, it is a heavy burden on women’s health. As part of my internship with MHI, I will research external factors that play a role in breast carcinogenesis. MHI’s research focuses on pregnancy hormone concentrations among urban and nomadic Mongolian women, studying its role in breast cancer carcinogenesis. Because breast cancer rates are higher in urban regions than in rural regions and Mongolia is a rapidly urbanizing nation, Mongolia is a prime location to study the risk of breast cancer and its association with urban environments.

Breast cancer is a huge health risk to women globally, which, transitively, negatively impacts women’s opportunities in leadership. Thus, breast cancer research is not simply for the sake of medicine, but it is a fight for women’s basic right to health and opportunity, a right that NCI wholeheartedly fights for and supports. This research will not only benefit Mongolian women, but it will also impact the global community’s understanding and efforts to fight breast cancer and empower women to become global leaders.

In addition to studying breast cancer, I will assist in a major clinical trial on vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of TB infection among school-aged girls and boys. As of this January, incidence of TB among Mongolian school-aged children have quintupled since the previous World Health Organization estimates, and TB accounts for the highest mortality rate among infectious diseases in Mongolia. MHI’s focus on improving women’s and children’s health is meaningful to me, and it would be my privilege to specifically study and work to alleviate the health burdens of women and girls.

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I am especially excited to advocate for women and children’s health in Mongolia, where I spent a majority of my childhood. I have a deep love for the culture and people of Mongolia, and as such, MHI’s research is very close and important to me. As I gain knowledge about breast cancer and TB prevention, I hope to integrate my understanding of Mongolian culture and my education from Tulane to further develop my advocacy for women and children’s health in Mongolia and globally. During my time at Tulane, I have developed a passion to approach all issues, including clinical research, through a perspective of empathy and human-centered design. Contributing to MHI’s research using this perspective, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the real human audience whom clinical research benefits and a growth in character as a human and future physician.

To prepare for this internship, I will be preparing my personal knowledge database by reading and organizing existing research on TB and breast cancer incidence. Additionally, I will be in contact with my internship supervisor and research team, and will fulfill any preparatory work that is recommended. By interning with the MHI, I hope to contribute to research that will  better the global healthcare community’s understanding of TB and breast cancer causes and treatments.