Ryan discovered his career path in South Africa
September 29, 2019

I transferred into the University of Illinois from community college and I’m a proud first-generation graduate. My HDFS degree has greatly prepared me for a career in Pediatric related medicine and research. The coursework, at least from my experience, laid a strong, flexible foundation for broad knowledge regarding all the different aspects of human development of children and adolescents through a global perspective. The program incorporated a variety of different areas, including epigenetics, genetics, psychology, physiology, anatomy, embryology, sociology, ecology, cultural studies, etc. with enough understanding that you were able to continue learning independently after graduation. That alone has provided me with unique and beneficial insight into global health disparities specific to pediatric populations. While my classroom experiences were rigorous and informative, I have to say that I was prepared the most for this career path through my undergraduate study abroad, research, and professional experiences.

My initial interest in medicine began during my second year of undergraduate studies when I clinically observed physicians in rural Honduras with the non-governmental organization Global Brigades, Inc (GB). My first exposure to research was by complete accident when I first enrolled in a resiliency theory course led by Dr. Angela Wiley. I was eventually offered to join Dr. Wiley and Dr. Margarita Teran as a research assistant on one of their studies. The experience that I gained from that opportunity was instrumental in my intellectual and professional development. It was the launchpad and after that I began exploring more opportunities. As an undergraduate, I was involved with a variety of research teams throughout the HDFS Department and presented at a variety of conferences. As an undergraduate, I partnered with GB and performed my own independent, international public health research study in rural Honduras on water access and purification strategies impact on self-perceived oral and general health. As an undergraduate, I had results from that study published in the Oxford Press’s Journal of Current Developments in Nutrition and had the opportunity to present my findings at the American Society for Nutrition’s Annual Conference in Boston. As an undergraduate, I took part in the South Africa study abroad program and spent a little under a month shadowing physicians in South Africa at the Khayelitsha (Site B) Community Health Clinic in their Infectious Disease Department and Trauma Center. It was also during my study abroad trip that I met Dr. Jawaya Shea (Head of Child Health Unit at the University of Cape Town) through Jan Brooks. As an undergraduate, I returned to South Africa later that year for about 3 months to work alongside Dr. Shea on the early stages of a research project around type-1 diabetes management for children and adolescents at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. I was a Fulbright Fellow Semi-Finalist for an independent research study in South Africa the year after I graduated. Currently, I work as a Clinical Research Coordinator in the Division of Pediatric Urology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago with faculty from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. I also serve on the Young Professional’s Board for the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation. I intend on attending medical school in the next few years. 

Interestingly, we recently had a large meeting at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago about the current state of research within the hospital. One of the big takeaways was that in order to facilitate innovation, there needs to be a greater push for collaborations. A few months before that meeting, I had the pleasure of liaising a last-minute visit from Dr. Shea to Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to tour the facilities and network with faculty and staff at Lurie Children’s and Northwestern University. Throughout my undergraduate experience within the HDFS program, I collaborated and surrounded myself with a mentors and peers who supported me, provided me with opportunities, and routinely pushed the boundaries of my aspirations. As a recent graduate, I continue to stay in touch and maintain my ever-growing network, and it will be the experience and knowledge gained from this network that will ultimately lead to my success in life.