Alumni Profile: Stephanie Klees, MD, MS 2013

1. What was your research focus while you were a master’s student? Do you have any updates on that project?
My capstone project focused on how urban farming in low-income neighborhoods can impact food security, nutrition, and health for participating community members. Specifically, I conducted my fieldwork at an urban farm called Veggielution in East San Jose, California. Food insecurity affects one in six Americans and it has been associated with poor health outcomes for adults and children. My research showed that urban agriculture can positively impact diet, health, and wellbeing of participants. Our findings also suggest that urban agriculture can positively impact food security in low-income communities. I am currently working on the manuscript to submit my research for publication.

2. What were some of the challenges you encountered in your fieldwork?
Probably one of the biggest challenges for me was the fact that I had planned my project based on certain assumptions about the study population that turned out to be incorrect. It became very clear after spending a week or two at the farm that I would have to reframe my study question.

3. Can you share some information about your current work in Rwanda?
Currently, I am working as a pediatric mentor in the Human Resources for Health Program in Kigali, Rwanda through the Rwandan Ministry of Health and Yale University of Medicine. I work with US and Rwandan colleagues to strengthen the residency program for Rwandan pediatric postgraduates. I supervise pediatric residents and medical students in the outpatient pediatrics clinic and collaborate on curriculum development and research projects within the department.

Since I work at the main public hospital in Rwanda, we see severely malnourished children and critically ill children every day. Resources are limited and the system has many challenges that impede patient care. The work is frustrating and heartbreaking at times because change can’t come fast enough, but my favorite part of my job—the most rewarding part—is my work with the residents and medical students who are so eager to learn and provide high quality health care to the children of Rwanda.

4. How did the completion of the Master’s degree impact your current work and future career plan? What are your future career goals in global health?
Prior to my master’s studies at UCSF, I had been a practicing community pediatrician for over six years and had witnessed the ill effects of health inequalities first-hand. My interest in pursuing a global health degree stemmed from such experiences and my desire to improve children’s health on a broader scale. While my initial interest in global health was domestically focused, I heard about the Human Resources for Health Program in Rwanda and it provided an opportunity to combine my pediatric clinical interests with a focus on medical education and curriculum development. It has been a great fit for me. I eventually plan to return to the US and work in community health, but I plan to support the mission of Human Resources for Health Rwanda in the years to come.

5. What advice would you give prospective students considering a career in global health?
My first piece of advice is to use your capstone project to learn as much as you can about conducting research. Challenge yourself. It is a great time to make connections with the amazing faculty at UCSF and also gain practical experience on how to conduct field research.

My second piece of advice is to be open to global health opportunities both domestically based and abroad. I never envisioned living abroad but I have learned so much in my time in Rwanda that I will be able to apply to work in other underserved communities. My time in Rwanda has also really demonstrated to me that it is essential to immerse yourself in the community you are working with. I see so many programs and NGOs come in to Kigali for two-to-three-week stints and leave, and their work is so disconnected from the people they are trying to serve.