Global Health AL-Lions

Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

Maryknoll Palisoc, Team Leader

Maryknoll was born and raised in the congested and humid Metro Manila in the Philippines, where she finished primary and secondary school. Her earliest memories include playing tagu-taguan (hide and seek) and piko (Filipino variation of hopscotch). She has also loved science and its wonders since young, which inspired her to study biochemistry and molecular genetics in college in the United States. Maryknoll then became interested in medicine and in making healthcare more affordable especially in underserved communities, after organizing free immunization clinics as an AmeriCorps Project Coordinator. She is an incoming second year MD-PhD student at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine where she spends most of her time studying in the second floor cubicles. Her long-term goal is to combine both research and medicine in order to provide quality and cost-effective treatments for patients. When not in the lab or in the cubicles, she spends her free time doing beadwork, selling chic clothes online, watching The First 48, and hanging out with her fiancé, Zach.

Joseph Lewcun, Team Member

Joey was raised in Ambler, Pennsylvania, a suburb right outside of Philadelphia, with his younger brother, older sister and Shetland sheepdog named Sammy. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after high school and was deployed to several countries throughout southeast Asia and the Middle East.  Once he returned to the U.S., he attended the University of Pittsburgh where he received his bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, and conducted research on Parkinson’s disease at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. He just completed his first year of medical school at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, and spends the majority of his free time helping run the school’s free clinic, LionCare, which serves the vulnerable populations of the Harrisburg area.  His interests in the medical field are still rather broad, but he hopes to work with underserved communities long term to help create sustainable improvements in their access to healthcare.  When he’s not in the library studying, he enjoys science fiction books and movies, or anything involving animals.

Vladimir Khristov, Team Member

Vladimir grew up hopping between countries, states, and continents in no particular order, and never really stopped. He graduated from Penn State University with a major in Biochemistry, a minor in Bioengineering, and the realization that the best application of science is to be used for the wellbeing of others. Before returning to Penn State to study medicine, he worked at the National Eye Institute to combine stem cells, surgery, and bioenginnering into a treatment for blindness. He makes the most of his limited free time by traveling, volunteering, playing guitar, riding his motorcycle.

Erin Bell, Team Member

Erin is an incoming MS2 at Penn State College of Medicine. She graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 2016. The Global Health AL-Lions team formed as a result of a medical brigade to the Herrera Province of Panama in April of 2018. The brigade saw double the estimated number of patients, and was an eye-opening experience. In the future, she wants to work with organizations such as Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health, in order to work on more long term and sustainable projects. Erin is planning on becoming an Emergency Medicine physician with a Neurocritical Care fellowship.

Team Essay

A patient is more than a medical diagnosis. Each individual is molded by unique circumstances, life experiences, available resources, and barriers that determine health outcomes – also known as social determinants of health. Understanding these factors is instrumental in enabling a physician to provide effective care. As aspiring global health professionals, we believe that learning to recognize societal inequities allows us to care for communities in need in a sustainable way both here and abroad.

Before embarking on our primary care preceptorship this April, we were trained and tested on the etiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases. However, while this medical knowledge proved essential to prescribing the correct medications, it represented a mere fraction of the considerations we needed to provide effective medical care for our patients.

On our recent preceptorship trip to organize pop-up clinics in the Herrera province of rural Panama, we were overwhelmed by the thousands of people waiting patiently for us since 4 am. As the steady stream of patients flowed through the classrooms repurposed into exam rooms, patterns started to emerge. The 60 year-old farmer with chronic back pain from lifting bags of fertilizer every day. The mother concerned that her child was not eating well, turning out to be a parasitic worm infection from contaminated water. The construction worker slowly losing his eyesight as his lenses become cloudy from toiling in the relentless
equatorial sun. Numerous fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles arrived with uncontrolled hypertension due to high-salt diets and chronic medication shortages in the scarce and distant local pharmacies. We saw firsthand that patients with similar genetic composition and presentation can have dramatically different clinical outcomes depending on their background and access to treatment.

Many assume that treating these conditions in a developed country like the United States would be straightforward. However, when lack of resources and socioeconomic obstacles become prevalent, such as in the at-risk communities of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we start to observe patterns of health inequality that are alarmingly similar to those we observed in rural Panama. Scarce public transportation, lack of affordable healthy food options, financial barriers, and low health literacy all negatively impact the health of these vulnerable communities in a distinct, but fundamentally similar way that parallels the healthcare inadequacies of Herrera.

Our interactions with our patients, preceptors, and other Panamanian doctors taught us about the multitude of potential barriers our patients faced. We learned that a patient’s treatment is successful when the physician works with the patient and the community to identify barriers to care and helps to overcome them. Therefore, by acknowledging the factors that make each patient and community unique, we gain the ability to approach healthcare holistically, treating the individual and the community rather than their disease.