Madeline Perry, a fourth-year medical student in the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, will spend 10 months studying how a medical app on smartphones may help make health care more accessible to indigenous women in southwestern Guatemala.
Her travel and stay for that research project, which begins in January 2019, will be funded by a 2018-19 Fulbright Study Research Grant. Perry is one of five students at UC to receive this honor. The 25-year-old Cincinnati native will work with the nonprofit agency, Maya Health Alliance, also known as Wuqu' Kawoq, to offer better medical care women facing high-risk pregnancies in Tecpán, Guatemala.
"Midwives attend many of the births with indigenous women because there is discrimination against the population so women don’t always used the formal medical sector,” says Perry, who hopes to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology upon graduation.
"This app used by midwives is picture-based so you don’t have to be literate to use it,” says Perry. "It helps stratify high-risk women in pregnancy and also categorize those who are at low risk of complications. If women are in the high-risk category they are encouraged to go and seek medical attention in the formal health care sector and a midwife is alerted to this and also health care professionals are alerted to bring in a neonatal physician because the woman needs attention.”
Perry will use data from the app to review the cases of women flagged as high risk to determine what barriers they faced in receiving health care. She will use a quantitative analysis and a qualitative component that uses interviews with the women, midwives and health care providers.
"It’s really exciting,” says Perry. "It’s kind of crazy to believe I am actually at the point I am about to go to Guatemala and study the topic I am really interested in pursuing. It feels great and I am looking forward to having a break from medical school and having an entire year dedicated to research and that is awesome.
"It feels like a lot of what I did in high school, college and medical school is all leading up to this point where I have been able to develop a project that fits into my interest in medicine and international work,” says Perry.
While in high school Perry developed an interest in medicine. She remembers a high school AP biology class that taught her the biological and social aspects of the HIV crisis in the United States.
"I thought it was super fascinating that a disease that doesn’t have any bias to it since it is just a virus was able to have such a big impact on people’s lives and that’s when first started getting interested in health care and making it more accessible to people,” says Perry.
"That led me to medicine. I’ve always had this interest in public and global health and how to make health care accessible and easier for people to get to. Before you can do anything in life you have to feel healthy and well,” says Perry.
Her interest initially led her to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where as an undergraduate she majored in biochemistry and global health. During her summers as a junior and senior she did research projects at UC and Cincinnati Children’s through the ROSE program.
That experience brought her to the College of Medicine for medical school.
"You can get a good medical school education anywhere, but at UC you are also encouraged to do things outside of medicine whether it be research or advocacy or policy work and I value that in a medical school,” says Perry.
As a medical student, Perry has worked with the student-run group, Initiative for Poverty Health and Justice, and volunteered through Women Leading Healthy Change to teach a class on women’s health at First Step Home in Cincinnati.
She’s taken the Medical Spanish Elective in medical school and has enjoyed the mentorship of faculty at UC and Cincinnati Children’s to advance projects in the areas of women’s health and global health.
"I’ve worked with Madeline in the Medical Spanish/Latino Health Elective for the past three years and during that time she has showed dedication, enthusiasm and persistence in achieving her goals of working in the area of maternal global health,” says Christy O’Dea, MD, associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Health.
O’Dea says the UC Division of Global and Underserved Health has used a partnership with Maya Health Alliance for the past three years, to send UC residents, faculty and students from the College of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy to provide needed medical services to indigenous Mayan patients in Guatemala.
"Madeline’s presence on the ground in Guatemala will increase our impact as we work to improve the health of indigenous Mayans in Guatemala,” says O’Dea, also medical director of the Crossroad Health Center in downtown Cincinnati.
Perry’s trip to Guatemala won’t be her first in the area of global health. As an undergraduate, she studied in Geneva and was exposed to major health agencies such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations, UNAIDS and the Red Cross. A couple of weeks in Morocco’s Sahara desert allowed her to work with a professor who was part of a nonprofit dedicated to screening kids for easily treatable eye conditions.
Perry also visited Ecuador with Timmy Global Health for a sustainable health care project and later went to Uganda with a biochemistry professor who led a nonprofit organization to study the impact Ebola had in a northern region of the country.
"Making sure that people can access quality health care is really important to me,” says Perry. "I think health care can be really empowering for women and that’s something I want to focus on in the future.”