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School of Medicine discoveries

June 5, 2015

AMA honors medical student Baaba Blankson with national award

Niva Lubin-Johnson, M.D., Baaba Blankson, Jesse Ehrenfield, M.D., and Michael Flesher

From left to right: Niva Lubin-Johnson, M.D., at-large representative of AMA Minority Affairs; Baaba Blankson, M’17, holding her AMA Minority Scholars Award; Jesse Ehrenfield, M.D., M.P.H., AMA board of trustees member; and Michael Flesher, a representative from Pfizer.

Baaba Blankson’s road to the MCV Campus was unlike anyone else’s. Born in Ghana, she moved to New York City when she was 13. She then completed two masters’ degrees before applying to the School of Medicine.

Now that she’s finally made it to medical school, she’s taking every opportunity to give back to the people and communities who helped her along the way.

On a visit to see family in West Africa last year, Blankson was struck by the incredible need of people in Apam, where approximately 60 percent of the community lives below the poverty line. “Apam faces a significant number of public health issues, including teen pregnancy, high infant mortality, poor sanitation and occupation induced disabilities. I knew I had to find a sustainable way to aid in the mitigation and ultimate alleviation of these issues.” With that, the Ghana Rural Outreach Sustainability and Engagement Organization was born.

Blankson, a member of the Class of 2017, has partnered with the Apam Catholic Hospital in Ghana to send student volunteers and certified health care providers to the underserved rural Apam community on Ghana’s southern coast.

ROSE offers opportunities to get involved to medical students and residents alike. First- and second-year medical students can precept and assist in procedures, while third- and fourth-year students can participate for an elective credit. Residents can pay a fee to receive their Ghanaian medical licenses, allowing them complete autonomy to practice at the local hospital.

The Apam Catholic Hospital, and the Apam community in general, also has a huge need for physical therapists and other allied health professionals, and Baaba hopes that one day she will be able to bring them to Ghana through ROSE.

Her work on this project has earned her a lot of fans at the School of Medicine. Susan DiGiovanni, M’84, H’89, assistant dean for medical education, says, “Baaba is a ray of sunshine. She is one of the sweetest students we’ve ever had. She always has a smile on her face and brings a positive attitude to the task at hand. She is generous with her time and her energy with her classmates as well.”

Because of her work with the ROSE project, DiGiovanni, along with Pemra Cetin, assistant dean for student affairs, and Chris Woleben, M’97, H’01, associate dean for student affairs, decided to nominate Blankson for the American Medical Association’s Minority Scholars Award. The award recognizes 20 medical students for their scholastic achievement and commitment to improving minority health.

Blankson can now count the AMA as another one of her fans. She received the award in recognition of her advocacy for global health equality in Chicago this June.

The award win is a distinct honor, and Blankson joins with medical students from places like Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt and Tufts on the roster of the AMA’s 2015 Minority Scholars. The award offers winners tuition assistance scholarships and seeks to increase the number of minority physicians to match the United States’ increasingly multicultural society.

“This award is truly a blessing,” says Blankson. “It is also a statement validating the border-transcendent nature of medicine and the need for global health. It is no longer about the individual; rather, it is about the broader community and creating sustainable healthcare access to nations in need. “

By Jack Carmichael