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Student uses experiences to shape her
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.”
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
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
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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