Congratulations to Anna Marie Young, the medical student on our team, on her upcoming graduation, and match to Northwestern for OB/GYN residency! We are so excited to see you blossom as a clinician!
We sat down with Anna Marie to learn more about her time in medical school, and what she’s hoping to get out of residency.
SS: Welcome, Anna Marie! To kick things off, can you tell me a bit about your background?
AY: Sure! I was born in the US, but grew up all over the place – we moved a lot because my father was in the military. We lived in Puerto Rico, Japan, and Spain, which is where my mom and her whole family are from. We spent the majority of my childhood moving back and forth from Spain and military bases. I permanently moved to the US when I was 12 years old, but didn't have much knowledge about it even though I was born here. At that point, we moved to Virginia, and that’s where I went to high school and college. I went to James Madison University (JMU).
SS: Tell me about your time in undergrad.
AY: JMU is one of the big public universities in Virginia. Going in, I knew I was interested in healthcare, but didn’t know what I wanted to do specifically. Halfway through college, I learned that physicians could have a real impact in improving global health, and I realized that I wanted to be a leader in global/public health.
SS: Where did that interest in global/public health come from?
AY: I grew up in so many different communities - they all culturally valued health, but each approached health in unique ways.
From a young age, I was very in tune with health being a unifying factor among every community I lived in.
Early on, I grew a desire to strive for equity for families that didn’t have the same advantages as others. When I went to JMU, there were a lot of opportunities for me to get involved with the immigrant community there. In Harrisonburg, there was a large Spanish-speaking population, many of whom were undocumented. A lot of immigrants came to Harrisonburg from the Middle East because it was previously a refugee resettlement area. I ended up becoming a medical interpreter at the hospital and did that part time throughout college. There were a number of other experiences that also drove my interest in public health, including work with a malaria research lab, and doing global/public health and environmental health work and advocacy in Central and South America.
SS: Tell me a bit more about the malaria lab. Was it basic sciences, social behavioral sciences, or a combination…?
AY: It was a basic sciences lab. We used a mouse model to examine immune responses to malaria, specifically looking at the role of the IL-3 cytokine. I actually joined the lab by reaching out to the faculty member who was the PI of the lab – I had gone to Panama to do some global health work during my first year of college, and grew really interested in a lot of the infectious diseases I’d seen while I was there. One of our patients in Panama had a suspected case of leishmaniasis, and I was really interested in learning more. This PI had done a lot of work with leishmaniasis, so I reached out to him, and even though he wasn’t currently studying it, I was able to join his research lab to learn more about the immune response to malaria.
SS: Now I want to transition to your interest in reproductive health and OB/GYN. Where did that interest come from?
AY: I’ve always valued women’s health – my abuela had 11 kids and was a strong matriarch, and my mom is a single mom. I’ve always wanted to be an advocate for women, but I didn’t really envision myself in that role until med school. I got involved with facilitating "Centering" pregnancy sessions with Dr. Rachel Seay, which is a group prenatal care model that we have at Bayview Medical Center. When it first started, it was for Spanish-speaking women only (now has expanded to other women).
That was the first time I started to feel like I was in the role of an OB/GYN, and I loved it – I didn’t want to do anything else.
I loved everything about it. And then it came down to how much I liked the OR (laughs). When I went through my surgery rotation, I actually thought about being a general surgeon. That was the "missing piece" – whether or not I liked the OR – and thankfully I really did.
SS: Tell me more about your experiences with research in med school. Obviously, you’ve been involved with research with Dr. Coleman. What kind of opportunities for research are built into Hopkins med school, or what opportunities did you find on your own?
AY: There are research opportunities built into our curriculum, but I think one thing that’s really special about Hopkins is that you can easily reach out to people, and people are more than happy to work with you. I was getting ready to take a year off after my third year of med school to get my MPH here, when I reached out to Dr. Coleman. I’d received NIH funding (the TL1 training grant) to support research during my MPH, and I really wanted a mentor that fit my fundamental interests, but was also an absolute powerhouse in research, and from what I had seen and heard, Dr. Coleman was that person. She has been an incredible person to work with and learn from.
Anna developed and implemented an educational curriculum addressing hypertensive disorders of pregnancy for midwives in Uganda in partnership with OneWorld Health. Her work was funded by the MPH Field Experience Grant Award at JHSPH. She is pictured here with Prisca, the lead midwife who she collaborated with in creating and implementing the curriculum.
SS: So I know a little bit about two of the studies you’ve been working on – can you tell me a bit more about the projects you’ve found to be really valuable working on here?
AY: Yeah! The HEALING study has been really meaningful and close to our hearts. The HEALING study was a series of focus group discussions to gain provider and patient feedback on animated videos created to increase knowledge and understanding of HIV PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). Facilitating those focus groups and being part of that process was a great learning experience in terms of qualitative research for me, but also really meaningful in witnessing the role that the community has in a lot of the work that we do. Dr. Coleman's work in particular is really driven by what the Baltimore community is actually facing. Writing this paper has also been a unique experience because our data wasn't standard for a research paper - it was feedback given back to us by providers and people who represent the patient population.
SS: That community participatory research style translates really well into global health – are you hoping to take some skills from this work into your future work in global/public health?
AY: I think any time you’re trying to implement a program or educational tool, there’s no way to do it successfully without involving the people who you’re trying to serve.
Taking the time to gather patient feedback and ensure that your work incorporates what is important to them also fosters a lot of growth in yourself as a researcher. It’s always easy to say that we need to know what our patients want, but it’s harder to actually put that into practice and ensure you’re being faithful to their needs.
SS: As someone who is going to be an OB/GYN soon, how do you envision going about, as you said, staying faithful to the needs of your community?
AY: I value representation. I think having people on your team - in your clinic, in your research group, in community leadership - who can account for a breadth of perspectives is really important. I hope that as a provider I can be an advocate for representation and facilitate elevating the voices we need to hear.
Pictured on the right: Anna reviewing neonatal resuscitation with midwives as part of the educational curriculum she implemented in Masindi, Uganda in partnership with OneWorld Health.
SS: Now, looking back on your time in med school, do you have a favorite moment, or patient or peer interaction, that really sticks out to you?
AY: Well, I cried after my first vaginal delivery, not in front of the patient (laughs), but on my own. A lot of the Centering patients also left a big impact on me. A lot of these women have been through trauma and hardship, have lived in poverty, and are new immigrants to America. One patient in particular, I will never forget. She was in her early 20s, and had just arrived to Baltimore and the US just a few weeks earlier. She had just found out she was pregnant, had no family and no friends, and the father of the baby was not involved. In a lot of ways, our Centering group was her primary source of support and her first group of friends. I remember Dr. Seay offering to be there for her when she got her epidural and at every step of the process leading up to her c-section. When Dr. Seay found out when her c-section was scheduled, she asked me to come as well and help support her.
I think both of us being there for her was a testament to the relationships that were created as a result of that Centering group, but also how important it was for her to feel like somebody had her back. It's kind of ironic, because Dr. Seay literally had her back – she was standing in front of her, holding her shoulders, while she got her epidural. It was a really clear image of what it means to be a true advocate for somebody who needs one.
SS: Just a few more questions for you. You’re starting your OB/GYN residency at Northwestern. What were some of the factors that compelled you to Northwestern?
AY: It was definitely a tough decision, but it ultimately came down to where I felt my heart was. I wanted to be in a city that had a lot of Spanish-speaking patients, and I knew Chicago had a really strong presence. It's an incredibly strong program for OB/GYN and I felt like I really connected with the people there. I think this is the new adventure that I’ve been wanting, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
SS: What are you most excited about and anxious or hesitant about in your transition?
AY: I’m a bit anxious because I don’t know anyone there. Here at Hopkins, I have a strong group of friends, great connections with faculty, and my mom is close by. Leaving all of this behind is going to be really hard. I’m anxious about having to form new relationships and connections but at the same time, I know it’ll be exciting, and it’ll really help me grow. And of course, Chicago is an amazing city!
SS: Awesome. My final question is, what advice would you give to someone who is interested in both medicine and global/public health?
AY: I think that wanting to help those who are most in need is something that is really beautiful. It's important to ask yourself though how you want to have an impact, and figure out the steps that you're willing to take to ensure that what you're doing is needed and welcomed by those you are trying to serve. Let the inspiration and motivation of wanting to serve those in need guide you to create something that is well thought out while collaborating and working alongside the people that you’re trying to help.
SS: Thank you so much for your time and reflecting on your time here, Anna Marie! Congratulations on your residency match and all the best with your future endeavors and contributions to this field!