MUSC Medical Student Follows Father's Footsteps In Pursuing Global Medicine

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There’s one thing you need to know about L.W. Preston Church, MD and his daughter, Chandler: they are passionate about global medicine. It’s a practice that requires humility and patience. To them, the practice of global medicine is both art and science, and in a sense avant garde in the many novel approaches to minimizing the global burden of disease.

Dr. Church is an Associate Professor in Department of Medicine and Chief of Hospital Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, SC.  He has made combatting global infectious disease his life’s work, and is often enlightened by the new generation of global health practitioners—namely, his daughter Chandler.

“Teaching is one of the most powerful motivators because the energy and enthusiasm of young people provides energy to work synergistically” said Dr. Church. Over the last few years, he has taken a vibrant group of MUSC students to Haiti through a partnership with Project Medishare to facilitate the increasing student demand for global health fieldwork.

Dr. Church provides these students with an opportunity to be exposed to health system differences and similarities. “It’s enlightening for students to learn that some of the common health conditions in developing countries are not always rare, exotic diseases, but some of the very same health problems impacting the people of South Carolina,” said Dr. Church.

The younger Church also has chosen a path of great reward by pursuing studies in infectious disease and global medicine. She recently completed her second year of medical school at MUSC and is taking leave to pursue a Master of Science in epidemiology at the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Though this is an “alternative pathway” through medical school, Chandler credits the College of Medicine Dean’s office and other leaders at MUSC who have been supportive of her pursuits.

This experience will provide Chandler with the opportunity to see—up close and personal—how the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) works. “There are obviously good and bad things about every system, everywhere” said Chandler. “This has enhanced my interests in doing medicine all over the world.”

Chandler is following in her father’s footsteps to become a successful global health and infectious disease practitioner. She had early exposure to public health and global medical work through her father, but even more profoundly, through an experience as part of a high school internship working with Kit Simpson, DrPH, professor in the College of Health Professions at MUSC, on the cost-effectiveness of routine HIV screenings. “It opened my eyes to a whole new way to look at infectious diseases,” Chandler said. “She changed my course from just wanting to go into clinical medicine to a more public health path. It’s great when clinicians and researchers work together to develop tools to more efficiently answer questions.”

Both Churches understand the importance of observation, listening and resourcefulness. Dr. Church emphasized the importance of patient history and the physical exam in medical deduction. Working in a global health setting exposes students to a variety of cultural, socioeconomic and other varying, stressful situations including different primary language and a lack of medical technology.  Because of these factors, practitioners must rely on these fundamental skills. “The whole realm of communication becomes quite important, with listening as the cornerstone," said Dr. Church.

The absence of high-tech medical equipment continues to spur innovation in examining and treating patients abroad. These innovations have—seemingly—outpaced our own here in the U.S. in cost and efficacy. Understanding the many different approaches to sufficiently and rewardingly practicing medicine in the global arena makes for a learned practitioner whose skills are transferable to the west and growing global demand. As practitioners encounter new, daunting challenges in global health, they oftentimes respond with extraordinary innovation.

“If you really want to do global medicine, you really have to learn to value the things that don’t cost as much, to be perfectly honest” Chandler explained. Preston and Chandler Church are both great examples of what future practitioners and medical students should aspire to: providing system transcending care for those who need it irrespective of geography or socioeconomic status.