For the month of April, we chatted with Dr. Sherif Abdalla, a PGY-1 Internal Medicine Resident, on the topics of global health research, working with the organization MicroResearch, and personal wellness. Happy reading!
Recently, you had an article published in the Lancet about global health research, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa. What interested you about this topic, and how was your experience working on it?
I always felt extremely fortunate for being able to immigrate to Canada from Egypt, and although adapted quickly, I never forgot that side of me. As I noticed the vast differences in healthcare delivery and resources, my interest in global health problems was kindled. When I started medical school, I was eager to get involved in global health research that was tangible and impactful, and I happened to stumble upon MicroResearch, an organization started by two physicians in Halifax, aimed at increasing research capacity in East Africa. Specifically, MicroResearch, started in Uganda in 2008 and now operational in seven countries, aims to extend the community-focused research capacity of local health-care professionals so they can develop evidence-based solutions for local health problems that fit the local context, culture, and resources.
The Lancet article titled: MicroResearch: an effective approach to local research capacity development aimed to assess the effectiveness of MicroResearch at fulfilling its goal. Just to get a sense of the programme – MicroResearch starts with a 2-week workshop during which, teams define their community-focused research question and develop a proposal that is judged locally to assist them in preparing a full MicroResearch grant application. After peer review and grant acceptance, the projects are undertaken, written up, published and the findings implemented. The programme takes 18–24 months from the inception of a research question to the final project report. This simple approach proved to be extremely impactful in several ways, including the aforementioned increase in research capacity, but also helped participants to advance their careers, publish more papers, and more importantly, develop skills to continue on with research that addresses their problems, without removing them from their current commitments and thereby compromising healthcare access.
Working on this project was extremely fulfilling, as it showed how a relatively simple approach can have such a lasting impact on communities.
What about MicroResearch do you think stands out from other efforts focusing on addressing healthcare improvements in developing regions?
I think the strengths of MicroResearch is its focus on in situ research capacity building in a non-intrusive fashion. Specifically, the fact that it brings multidisciplinary healthcare professional teams together for a 2-week local workshop, followed by non-obtrusive guidance, empowers the participants and allows them to take ownership of their work by allowing them to pick problems that they’ve identified that fit in the cultural context. It was interesting to see how many participants continued with research after their initial projects, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how that was instilled. Furthermore, the MicroResearch template is easily transferable, not only to other regions, but to development in general, and not only applicable to healthcare. Essentially, MicroResearch showed that a simple, low-cost, program, can significantly impact a sector at its roots, and the effects of which may then be exponential as these skills are used and transferred locally.
You’ve mentioned that you are passionate about sports and music, specifically volleyball, and have been on a team here since moving from Halifax, which won the league at UBC. How do you manage to balance your life around residency and your hobbies?
I think this is an easy question to answer, but difficult to implement practically. The way I make sure to balance residency with my hobbies, is I just make them necessary. Just like showing up to work is a must, finding an hour or more to myself in the evening for sports or music is just as important. Obviously there are days where this is not possible, but overall, I try and quickly incorporate them into my day as soon as I’m off work as to not lose momentum. With volleyball in particular, it’s easily the most enjoyable part of my week which makes it hard to miss. It gives me a chance to socialize with my team mates, and concentrate on something else for a couple of hours a week, while having fun. I find that it’s little things like this that keep me going.
With music, it’s some of my only time alone, which allows me to express myself artistically which I find extremely therapeutic. It’s easy because I can just do it at home whenever, and doesn’t take much prep. I grew up playing guitar so that’s my go-to, but more recently I’ve been taking vocal lessons and incorporating singing into that too. I just hope it’s as fun for me as it is for my flat mates.
To me, resident wellness is about doing things that make me happy, and thereby improving my resiliency. I think it’s as important to focus on wellness at work and not only in my spare time. No one can argue that residency can be extremely challenging at times, but my relationships with my co-residents, colleagues, as well as patients, make a huge difference to me and my overall well-being, and that same attitude is what I strive for outside of work.