komal-kumar

Komal Kumar

Komal Kumar obtained her MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a researcher, public health advocate, and a 2017-2018 Fulbright Scholar to South Africa.

http://www.koandkompany.com

Learning a Foreign Language in a Foreign Land

At our pre-departure Fulbright orientation, we had a stimulating lecture on ‘your identity abroad’. I was fascinated by the conversation that ensued but did not realize that it would apply to me directly. The racial categories South Africa were different than any other country I had experienced before. According to the 2011 Census, South Africans were categorized as ‘Black African’ at 80.2%, ‘White’ at 8.4%, ‘Coloured’ (multiracial) at 8.8%, ‘Indian’ at 2.5%, and ‘Other’ at 0.5%. When people saw me, they quickly categorized me as ‘Coloured’. When they heard me speak, my accent made it was clear that I was a foreigner. And when I finally told them I was Indian, they didn’t believe me. Before last year, I never thought that critically about my ethnicity, my identity, and what it meant to me until it was challenged. It wasn’t until others began to categorize me into groups, that I realized identifying as Indian American woman was essential to who I am and what I stand for. To me, Cape Agulhas, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, isn’t just a location, it is a reflection. “To me, Cape Agulhas, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, isn’t just a location, it is a reflection.”   My decision to take a beginners’ Xhosa class at the University of Cape Town in my...

A Lesson from Research: One Size Does Not Fit All

My time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities, Cape Town and Baltimore, has enabled me to comprehend diseases within a larger context- one that encompasses, not isolates, social issues. The reality of medicine is that patients do not have medical problems in isolation. The medical problems with which patients present occur in the context of their daily lives that are influenced to varying degrees by social, economic, and psychological factors. In Cape Town, at that time, it was often issues of transportation and water restrictions that determined both access to and the availability of healthcare. “My time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities has enabled me to comprehend diseases within a larger context- one that encompasses, not isolates, social issues.” I walked into the HIV clinic excited to meet the next batch of patients I would recruit for my study. But as I started to get set up in the usually packed clinic, every seat was empty. I can recall being confused and curious while waiting in the typically congested HIV clinic to see it barren. I looked around trying to find someone who knew where the patients were or if I had missed something. Was it a national holiday I didn’t know about? Is there a workshop for these patients happening somewhere else in the hospital? I waited for an...

When the Baton is Passed to the Echo Boomers

When a baton is passed in a relay, there is a brief moment where both hands are on the baton. It is in those moments, as the baton is passed from the baby boomers to the echo boomers, where conduction occurs.   An echo boomer, Cassandra Batson, is coordinating the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) first-ever High School STEM day. On Wednesday, November 21st, 2018, students from 9th grade through the 12th grade will participate in a scientific conference that will allow them to engage in and recognize the real-world connections of STEM beyond the walls of the classroom.   I was lured into participating for many reasons, but mainly as a budding female scientist myself I wanted to use my novice voice to inspire other rookie females into careers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “…when you educate a woman you educate a generation” –African Proverb I not only agreed to participate in the High School STEM Day myself but also was inspired during preparation for the day to highlight her efforts as a way to continue to the dialogue of exposing youth to STEM careers in revolutionizing ways.   Shout out to a few leading ladies in STEM: Jean Fan, Founder of https://custemized.org/. CuSTEMized engages, encourages, and empowers young girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math by providing them with tangible products and educational experiences that foster a positive...

A Lesson from Research: Advocacy

In 2013, the office was abuzz with conversations about the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act. The HOPE Act would have significant implications for our work and was particularly relevant as former President Barack Obama planned to sign it into law a mere two months after I began working.   But despite its landmark significance, I was surprised to find that the HIV+ patient population was unaware of this law. More importantly, HIV+ patients’ willingness to accept HIV+ organs remained unknown. So, we developed a survey to understand patients’ attitudes towards HIV-to-HIV transplantation. Understanding these perspectives is paramount to gauging the level of support for the HIV-to-HIV organ donation program, specifically whether HIV+ patients are willing to accept HIV+ organs.   With the support of the Fulbright Scholarship, I continued this exploration on the knowledge of and attitudes toward HIV-to-HIV transplantation within the HIV+ population at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Consolidating the evidence of countless interviews I had collected from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, I recognized how easily biomedical science could remain within scientific journals without ever translating to the population we had in mind when designing the studies. Research, though valuable and critical, is limited if not accessible to the patients it hoped to benefit.   “Research, though valuable and critical, is limited if not accessible to the patients it hoped...

8 Films Every Health Professional Student Should Watch

I don’t know about you, but some films can really leave a mark. Over my journey, I have watched many medically related films but these 8 continue to surface to the top of my memory. Next time you need a pick-me-up, choose one of the following:   Hacksaw Ridge is a 2016 biographical war drama film directed by Mel Gibson. The film focuses on the World War II experiences of Desmond Doss, a combat medic who refused to carry or use a weapon or firearm of any kind. Doss was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.   Something the Lord Made is a 2004 biographical drama film directed by Joseph Sargent. This film is about Vivien Thomas, a cardiac pioneer, and his complex partnership with Alfred Blalock, a pioneer of modern cardiac surgery.   Patch Adams is a 1998 comedy-drama film directed by Tom Shadyac. This film is based on the life story of Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams who built and ran the free community hospital, Gesundheit Institute, in West Virginia.   Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a 2017 film directed by George C. Wolfe. The film is based on the best-selling book by Rebecca Skloot and documents the story of Henrietta Lacks whose cancer cells (HeLa cells) changed the course of cancer treatment forever.   The Heart of Nuba is a 2016...

Applying the Philosophy of Ubuntu to Medicine

Ubuntu is a word that I formally learned in beginners Xhosa class and informally through the people in which I engaged. The direct translation of this Xhosa word is: I am because we are. It is a philosophy that encourages humanity and interconnectedness. Little did I know that when I signed up for beginners Xhosa class in order to greet the patients I would meet in the clinic, I would learn of a philosophy that could heal the US healthcare system. Interconnectedness of Diseases The complex reality is that diseases are not isolated medical problems. They are medical problems in the context of interconnected biological systems that construct the human body. When we focus on treating diseases in isolation, we get a myopic view of the problem and thus a partial solution. Interconnectedness of Determinants Much like America, South Africa is a country with diverse identities, a sensitive history, and an environment segregated by race and social status. And much like America, these factors complicate healthcare access, equity, and outcomes. Throughout my time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities, I have learned to comprehend human disease within a context that encompasses, rather than sequesters, social issues. Interconnectedness of Departments Specialization in medicine has fragmented patient care and created silos. Collective wisdom will help heal the fragmented health care system. Previously independent fields are now integrating...

Part 2: How Filming a Documentary prepared me for Medicine

#5 Be Curious Before an interview, I would prepare a list of questions that I should ask specifically for that interviewee. In the beginning, the back and forth of questions and answers were scripted at first then gradually improvised and tailored to what was revealed prior. The lesson here is to be prepared but also be adaptable. By being curious, you will get all of the answers you need. “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.” -William Osler  #6 Understand each piece of the puzzle One of the greatest responsibilities of a filmmaker is to serve as an advocate for each unique story so that it is holistically and accurately displayed. Documentary film as a medium allows one to showcase a representative experience. While the filmmaker presents the facts, the audience is left to make their own opinion. To do this with the utmost integrity, one must understand each voice in the choir. “The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely.” -William Osler #7 What to keep and what to cut When creating a documentary, you have the choice of what story you want to tell. And when editing, you have the choice of what footage you want to show. This can be dangerous. There is a delicate balance of facts vs. opinions to maintain so the message won’t be misconstrued. Err...