The Frist Global Health Leaders (FGHL) program affords young health professional students, residents, and fellows the opportunity to serve and train abroad in underserved communities for up to one semester. In doing so, they will bolster capacity in clinics in need of support as well as offer training to community health workers to promote sustainability upon their departure from these communities. As part of the program, they blog about their experiences here. For more information, visit our program page.

Jason Axt Jason Axt is a Chief Surgical Resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He grew up in North and South Dakota. He initially trained as an Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic. He then completed an Associate’s Degree in Nursing and worked as a nurse in a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, and ultimately as a flight nurse. He then attended Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). During surgical residency at Vanderbilt he was able to participate in the NIH funded initiation of a multicenter tumor registry for Wilms tumor, a pediatric cancer, in Kenya. His experience in Kijabe, Kenya as a Frist Global Health leader increased his interest in, and prepared him for application to the Samaritan’s Purse Post Residency Program. He has been accepted to a 1 ½ year post in Cameroon where he will be serving as faculty in the general surgery residency at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, teaching African physicians. He will then return to the States for a pediatric surgery fellowship at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Jay Bala

Jay Bala earned in Masters in Public Health from Vanderbilt University through the global health track. He grew up in Simi Valley, California, and received his undergraduate BS in Biochemistry from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His professional  interests including applying basic science, education and informatics in a public health setting, which lead to his thesis work “Diagnostic Trends in Rural Health Centers in Southern Zambia, 2003- 2009: Informatics for Clinic Data Management”. During the MPH program he spent 3 months in Zambia and was able to work on projects including tracking genetic drug resistance to malaria at Macha Research Trust in Southern Province and antiretroviral therapy at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. He is currently seeking opportunities to serve communities by implementing quality control interventions that have a basic science/informatics basis. Outside of work he enjoys skiing, biking, and exploring new cuisines in his kitchen.

Imani Brown

Imani Brown is a student in the Global Health track of the Master in Public Health (MPH) program at Vanderbilt University. Imani graduated from Dartmouth College with a BA in Romance Languages. After completing the MPH program, she plans to attend medical school and build on her global health skills. Imani has a keen interest in HIV/AIDS program development and evaluation as well as mental health recovery research. Imani served as a Frist Global Health Leader in Zambia.

Charlotte Buehler

Charlotte Buehler is a Master of Public Health- Global Health track student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.  Charlotte received her Master of Science degree in Geosciences from Mississippi State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Geosciences from DePauw University.  Charlotte completed her M.P.H. practicum experience in Kenya working in partnership with the Lwala Community Alliance.  While she was in Lwala, Kenya, Charlotte used geospatial technology (e.g. GPS and Google Earth) to map community water sources in order to build water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) program capacity.  Charlotte is also applying her geospatial technology skills in her M.P.H. thesis project—Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to examine the spatial patterns and clustering of HIV knowledge in Zambezia Province, Mozambique.

Katherine Burns

Katharine Burns, MD received the Frist Global Health Leader fellowship award as a 4th year medical student at Vanderbilt School of Medicine 2012.  As an undergrad, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she graduated as a Matthews Scholar with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology and minors in Spanish and Chemistry. In 2010, she was awarded the Benjamin H. Kean Traveling Fellowship in Tropical Medicine from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and the Vanderbilt University Overall Fellowship which afforded her the opportunity to conduct dengue virus research in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  As a former co-director of the medical school’s student-run Global Health Committee in 2010-2011, Katharine was instrumental in creating a database of global health research and service opportunities which is used by students and faculty across the Vanderbilt medical and undergrad campuses.  As a Frist Leader, Katharine volunteered at Centro Medico Humberto Parra, a health clinic located in rural Bolivia and supported by the non-profit organization, the Daniels Hamant Foundation.  While there, she used her Spanish language skills in primary care work within an underserved population.  She also focused her efforts on women’s health by building a program within the clinic that seeks to provide more effective screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer and osteoporosis.  Katharine earned a Certificate in Global Health at graduation from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2013, and is now completing her academic residency in Emergency Medicine at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Chicago, IL. 

Sarah Dunn Sarah Dunn, MD was born and raised in New Jersey, and moved to Virginia for college at the University of Virginia. During college she developed an interest in public policy and following college attended graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley, earning a masters degree in Public Policy in 2004.  She subsequently applied to medical school and then attended Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. While at Vanderbilt, Sarah was co-director of the student run free clinic and was the recipient of the George & Barbara Burrus Medical Missions Award, which is awarded to a student who has demonstrated exceptional interest and participation in providing medical care to the poor during medical school, either locally or abroad.  She is excited about the opportunity to continue this work working in Georgetown, Guyana, providing medical care and assisting with resident education.  She is currently in her third year of residency in the Vanderbilt Emergency Medicine Program in Nashville, TN.

Malendie Gaines

Malendie Gaines received a Master of Public Health Degree in 2012 from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. During her Master in Public Health program, she worked as a HIV Clinical Research Coordinator for two years. Currently, she is a second year Doctorate of Public Health Student at East Tennessee State University concentrating in Epidemiology. While presently obtaining her doctorate degree she is continuing her efforts to prevent and treat HIV in the community. Malendie traveled to serve in Munsieville, South Africa as a Frist Global Health Leader. After graduation, she plans on completing a fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

Susan George

Susan George, MD is a fourth year general surgery resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is traveling to Kijabe, Kenya to work for 4 weeks as a general surgery resident at Kijabe Mission Hospital. This isn’t her first time to Kijabe. Last year, she spent 10 months working at Kijabe Hospital as a plastic surgery resident. Her long-term career goal is to work in global health and work as a missionary surgeon.

During her time has a Frist Global Health Leader, Jessica Yasmine Islam was a Graduate student at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, pursuing a Master’s of Public Health in Global Health. This past year Jessica Islam travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to engage in research projects and a professional internship to satisfy the practicum and capstone project requirements set forth by her Master’s program. As a Frist Global Health Leader, Jessica utilized her funding, generously granted by Hope for Healing Hands, during her time as an intern with the World Health Organization Country Office for Bangladesh. She worked in the non-communicable disease division and was able to gain broad exposure to the global state of chronic disease management. Additionally, she worked at the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh to gain further research experience in women’s health research, namely the epidemiology of the human papillomavirus. Having also attended Vanderbilt for her Bachelor’s degree, Jessica has spent a significant amount of time in Nashville and has been active in her community. She volunteered at several organizations, including Siloam Family Health Center, and tutored science at elementary schools during her Undergraduate career. Jessica was also active on her campus and held several leadership positions in different student-led organizations, which promoted diversity and intercultural exchange on her Undergraduate campus. In the future, Jessica plans to pursue a doctoral in the field of epidemiology and contribute to the progress of public health and medicine by conducting chronic disease research in developing countries.

Sarah Mehta2

Sarah Mehta (at right) is originally from Kingsport, Tennessee.  After graduating from Queens University of Charlotte in 2007, she was awarded a Fulbright grant to research non-governmental organizations operating in Tanzania, assessing factors facilitating or inhibiting project sustainability.  Following this project, Sarah stayed in Tanzania for an additional two years, working with a small organization that hosts volunteers from abroad and matches their skills and experience with community development projects. During this experience, Sarah realized that she was most interested in working to improve health outcomes among underserved populations, and she decided to return to the USA to pursue a master of public health at East Tennessee State University. With support from Hope through Healing Hands, Sarah had the opportunity to return to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and complete an internship with a German development organization during her final semester at ETSU.  She completed a research project evaluating the effectiveness of the community health worker approach for improving availability and accessibility of family planning commodities at the village level. Sarah presented the results of her project at the Tanzania National Family Planning Conference in October 2013. She currently resides in Boston and works as a Technical Writer with Pathfinder International.


Jenna Middlebrooks

Jenna Middlebrooks earned her dental hygiene license in 2007 and a Bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in 2009 from St. Petersburg College.  She received a Master’s of Public Health with a focus in community and behavioral health in 2010 and is currently working on a Doctorate of Public Health at East Tennessee State University.  Jenna’s main areas of research are circus arts as positive youth development and children’s oral health. She served as a Frist Global Health Leader in Cuidad Sandino, Nicaragua.

Arun Nair is a 2nd year Emergency Medicine Resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  He grew up in Fort Worth Texas and attended college at University of Texas at Austin where he studied liberal arts.  His love of the visual arts lead him to New York where he worked as an artists assistant and was able to travel internationally.  His experiences abroad sparked his interest in healthcare and he attended medical school at Southwestern Medical Center of Dallas. He will be traveling to Georgetown, Guyana in Spring of 2013 to work and teach at Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.  He plans on pursuing a fellowship in Global and International Health upon completion of his residency.

Beth Oconnell headshot 2014

Bethesda "Beth" O'Connell graduated from the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health with her BS in May 2011 and her MPH in May 2013. She is now enrolled in ETSU's Doctor of Public Health program. Beth has concentrated in community health with an interest in global health throughout her education. The Frist Global Health Leaders program allowed Beth to complete an internship in Rwanda in 2010 and in Guatemala in 2013. Beth has also received the Bruce and Amelia Goodrow Endowment for academic performance in 2009 and 2011 and was awarded the Most Outstanding MPH Student in the Community and Behavioral Health Department in 2013. Her research in Guatemala City, Guatemala allowed her to present posters at the Appalachian Student Research Forum in April 2013 and at the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting in November 2013. Beth continues to work toward a career in public health through her DrPH program and looks forward to future opportunities. 

Marc Stevens

Marc Stevens, Jr., is a native of Patterson, Louisiana. He graduated from Nicholls State University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology. He continued his education at East Carolina University where he obtained his Master of Public Heath and Ethnic Rural Health Disparities certificate in 2012. There he was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society. Marc is currently a second year Doctor of Public Health student at East Tennessee State University. He is actively involved in several organizations, which include the following: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., American Public Health Association, Society for Epidemiologic Research, Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research, etc. In 2013, Marc was honored as a Golden Key Research Grant Awardee and selected as an American Public Health Association Maternal and Child Health Section Fellow. His research interests include health disparities, minority health, maternal and child health, STI & HIV prevention, and childhood obesity. He looks forward to working with the Thoughtful Path programme and serving the community in Munsieville, South Africa.

Kayla Thielk Kayla Thielk Nyakinye is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a current MPH candidate in the Infectious Diseases program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She also holds an M.S.N from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, and a B.A. in Medicine, Health, and Society from Vanderbilt University. Kayla spent her global health fellowship in rural Western Kenya, primarily working as a clinician in the HIV support center of the Lwala Community Hospital. After completing her fellowship, Kayla remained in Kenya for an additional 18 months working for the Lwala Community Alliance as a Quality Assurance Officer. In this role, she helped to implement several programmatic grants that focused on improving the quality of the organization’s clinical and HIV services. She hopes to further pursue her interests of international health and infectious diseases, and to ultimately serve as a leader in the development and design of effective and sustainable HIV/AIDS programs in resource-limited settings.

Tyler Winders

Tyler Winders is medical student from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  He completed his undergraduate studies at Truman State University graduated valedictorian of the Class of 2009. He served as a Frist Global Health Leader in  Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras.

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