Swapping My Stethoscope for Spreadsheets

Michelle Ikoma, 2018 Peacock Fellow

My scrubs and stethoscope have yet to leave my suitcase, but even so, I’m confident that my efforts will positively impact the health of Kibera’s children.

July 20, 2018

For the better part of the last year, my time has been dedicated to cramming as much human anatomy, physiology, and pathology into my brain as possible. I also learned how to methodically take a patient history and perform a complete physical exam as a first-year medical student. However, over the past three weeks, I’ve set aside my stethoscope and spent most of my time building Excel spreadsheets instead of differential diagnoses. 

My mindset in joining the Carolina for Kibera (CFK) team was to jump in wherever I saw a need that I could fill. And within my first few days, I realized that my business degree far more than my one year of medical training would help me have a positive impact during my two months in Kenya. So for the first time in close to two years, I opened up an Excel workbook and brushed the cobwebs off of my VLOOKUP and conditional formatting skills. (Credit goes to the Kenan-Flagler Business School for equipping me with this knowledge as an undergraduate student.) 

Since putting my business hat back on, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how quickly my analytical skills have come back to me. In my first job out of college, I worked as a sales operations analyst at a data-driven marketing and sales company. This role taught me the importance of not just collecting data but ensuring that this data is accessible to those on the front lines. Drawing on this experience, I’ve been working on building a user-friendly database that will help the CFK team easily see growth trends for the children enrolled in their Nutrition Program.

Spending a week shadowing a family medicine physician during my first semester of medical school in the U.S. taught me how critical children’s growth trajectories are in evaluating their overall health and well-being. Each time a patient under two years old came in for a checkup, we recorded the child’s weight, height, and head circumference in the electronic medical record. Then with the click of a button, we pulled up the child’s percentile rank for each of these metrics and graphs showing us the patient’s growth over time relative to the growth expected for a healthy child.

I took for granted that we were saved from countless tedious z-score calculations, not to mention painstaking hand-drawn graphs. Yet these calculations and manual graphs have been a reality for CFK’s nutrition team working to combat the high rates of malnutrition in Kibera for the past five years. However, hopefully this will soon change as we train the team on how to use a new database that automatically computes z-scores and graphs growth trajectories for them.

My scrubs and stethoscope have yet to leave my suitcase, but even so, I’m confident that my efforts will positively impact the health of Kibera’s children. This experience has been a great reminder that pursuing a career in medicine does not mean that my business degree is no longer valuable. In a very tangible way, I’ve seen how my business background can broaden the impact that I can have as a physician, and I’m excited to find other ways to apply these skills during my remaining five weeks in Kenya.

Michelle Ikoma is a first-year medical student at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and is currently in Kibera for her 2018 fellowship experience.

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