Celia Mizelle, a senior majoring in Biology and minoring in Global Health and Chemistry, reflects on her experience working with two Bass Connections project teams on innovations to improve women’s health.
Participating in Bass Connections stands out as one of my most significant opportunities at Duke. Learning about global disparities in cervical cancer incidence in Dr. Megan Huchko’s course, Global Reproductive Health, motivated me to apply to the 2017-2018 Pocket Colposcope team.
In our first group meetings, we learned from Dr. Huchko and our other team leaders, Marlee Krieger and Nimmi Ramanujam, that new cervical cancer cases occur disproportionately in regions where there is limited access to devices for preventative screening. To address this issue, researchers at Duke’s Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies (GWHT) developed a low-cost, portable colposcope to facilitate screening for cervical cancer in low-resource settings.
Our Bass Connections team focused on how to implement this device in the primary care setting. We evaluated the best practices for creating a training program for community-level providers and developed a Pocket Colposcope training package.
At the end of the year, I visited one of our partner sites in Lima, Peru. In various neighborhoods of Lima, La Liga Contra el Cancer operates bright pink mobile clinics that provide free reproductive health services including cervical screening. I continued work that my teammates had begun over a spring break trip to Lima: observing the workflow in the mobile units to identify potential opportunities and challenges to implementing the Pocket Colposcope in this setting.
We also worked on adapting the training protocol based on feedback from providers. I gave a presentation about the Pocket Colposcope to biomedical engineering students at a local university, practiced my medical Spanish and tried some delicious ceviche.
When I returned, I shared what I learned on the ground with investigators who were beginning a study about the use of the Pocket Colposcope in the mobile screening units. It was rewarding to see a project develop from its ideation stages to a full-scale clinical trial, and I learned so much about what it takes to implement healthcare innovation in a new setting through this work. I was lucky to collaborate with interdisciplinary researchers in both Durham and Lima, as well as two Duke medical students who provided mentorship to the undergraduates in our group.
After having such a positive experience, I participated in another Bass Connections team co-led by Drs. Huchko and Amy Finnegan called Big Data for Reproductive Health (bd4rh). The most rewarding part of this project was working with a highly motivated, all-female team and representing Duke’s new Center for Global Reproductive Health with our research. Our group focused on making data about family planning use and discontinuation more accessible to contraceptive researchers and program coordinators.
This spring, the PhD student on our team, Kelly Hunter, organized our trip to DC to present at the Demographic and Health Survey Program, where we discussed how our data visualization tools might be used in the field.
Ultimately, I was surprised and excited about how my involvement in Bass Connections burst my “Duke bubble,” widening the circle of students and professors I know and strengthening my general support network. The team leaders who work on Bass Connections projects are enthusiastic about delivering results and engaging students in their fields.
Bass Connections developed my passion for innovation in health at the primary care level. As both a childbirth doula and an aspiring physician, I hope to continue working at the intersection of clinical medicine and public health after graduating.
These projects gave me not only content knowledge about topics that were previously unfamiliar but also a new way of thinking about the social determinants of health, a better understanding of translational research, and an appreciation for evidence-based decision-making that I will carry forward.