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Student uses experiences to shape her life

The following article is the fifth in a series dedicated to National Women’s History Month and this year’s theme, “Women's Art and Vision.”

by Heather Woolwine
Public Relations
Without a doubt, significant experiences shape who we are, and what we will be. Kristie Appelgren believes in the power of those experiences, and has used her own to shape a vision regarding her personal and professional life.
Born in San Francisco, Appel-gren moved to Rock Hill with her family when she was 6 years old. By 8, she knew she wanted to be a doctor. What she didn’t know was that just being a doctor wouldn’t be enough to satisfy her.
Appelgren graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish while completing all her pre-medicine courses (and a minor in international politics) from Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Afterward, Appelgren accepted a Rotary International Scholarship to spend 2002 in Chile, and opted to take medical courses with her Chilean medical school counterparts. “Through that experience, I learned about medicine in developing countries and built life-changing relationships; especially the one with my husband, Richard.”
It’s not a secret that the first few years of medical school can be difficult, and coming to MUSC while carrying on a long-distance engagement, and then marriage, didn’t make things any easier.
“We couldn’t afford a lawyer, so during the first two years of medical school, I filed all the immigration paperwork myself. It was really a defining moment for me and it taught me firsthand about the difficulties immigrants experience when they come into our country,” Appelgren said. “Through my experience grew a commitment to improve the health of the Latino immigrant community.” Richard officially immigrated to the U.S. three years ago.
Due to an outstanding academic record, Appelgren received the Dr. E. Conyers O’Bryan scholarship to help with tuition and costs for the duration of her education at MUSC, provided she continued on her path of excellence. In May she will complete her five-year plan with a medical degree and a master’s degree in clinical research. As if the academic achievement leading to a great clinical career wasn’t enough to aspire to, Appelgren hungers for more—namely, a leadership role in public health and health care policy.  

“I want to practice pediatrics in a public health clinic, and eventually get involved in global health,” she said. “Global health is the perfect intersection of all the things I like. I love languages, traveling, service and politics, and I feel that my passion and strengths would make me valuable.” It’s paying attention to this passion, or some might even say calling, that Appelgren said makes a vision turn into reality. “You have to see what subjects or patient encounters really matter to you and follow where those take you,” she said. “You can’t get too caught up in the practical things, like constantly worrying about loans. It’s about paying attention to what makes you feel alive.”
For Appelgren, that feeling comes when she works with the Latino community. A few years ago she served on the founding executive board of the MUSC Alliance for Hispanic Health (AHH), a student organization dedicated to health outreach and cultural recognition of the Latino community. She held numerous positions within the organization, including president. During her tenure, she introduced a linen drive for migrant workers lacking basic necessities such as bed sheets and towels. Last year, the drive gathered more than 500 pounds of donations. Appelgren also serves as a volunteer Spanish interpreter for the student-run CARES (Community Aid, Relief, Education, and Support) clinic in Mount Pleasant.
While away on a medical school rotation, Appelgren met a Mexican couple with 10 children who lived in a two-room structure, just minutes from the US border. Omar, their 8-year-old, was developing bilateral cataracts. On her return to Charleston, Appelgren began Team Omar and, with the help of AHH and the Circulo Hispanoamericano, organized students to raise money for him while she ran a 10K race in his honor. “Through the generosity of the community we were able to collect almost $3,000 for Omar’s surgery and follow-up treatment. With glasses, Omar now has perfect vision,” Appelgren said.
One of Appelgren’s most recent ventures dealt with her research interests. Along with Eve Spratt, M.D., Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Appelgren applied for and received an American Psychiatric Foundation grant to build a multimedia mental health and parenting resource library of Spanish-language materials for a local immigrant head-start program. The study is in the process of being published, and addresses ways immigrant parents can practice positive discipline techniques with their children. Of course, at the heart of the work with the Latino population is a love of medicine,  especially the care of children. “I’ll always have a clinical element to my career, and I look forward to the challenges of pediatric residency,” she said. “My comprehensive career goal involves pediatric public health, as well as leadership in public policy issues and a dedication to improving the health of the Latino immigrant community. That’s why my work in the AMA medical student section has been so important.”
Appelgren has been involved with the student section of the American Medical Association (AMA) since she began her medical education. She has attended eight national conferences, and is a member of the elite, eight-member national governing council of AMA students, who plan and direct more than 50,000 students nationwide. As the current speaker for the medical student section, she has organized two national conferences and serves as an advisor to the national standing committees on international health and minority issues. She was recently awarded the AMA Foundation Leadership Award, which is only granted to 15 medical students nationwide each year.
The recipient of numerous leadership and academic achievement awards, Appelgren will attend Duke University for her pediatric residency upon graduation in May.

Friday, March 28, 2008
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