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Student balances studies, local & global missions

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
Third-year medical student Katie
Koval has big ambitions. One day she wants to own a dog.
Katie Koval enjoys a trek through Haiti. She went there to set up mobile clinic in the summer of 2007 as part of Family Health Ministries based in Durham, N.C. 

Koval laughed talking about the goal. It won’t be happening anytime soon because her days and evenings are filled with activities that reflect her heart for missions.
The Charleston native is one of eight women at MUSC being honored this March as part of the National Women’s History Project. The university solicits nominations for women to be featured during the month of March who exemplify leadership qualities and who make significant contributions in their fields.
Koval, who graduated from Duke University in 2006, enrolled in MUSC’s medical school in 2007. She hit the ground running. Serving as clinic coordinator last year of MUSC’s CARES Clinic (Community Aid, Relief, Education and Support), Koval is pursuing her interest in free clinics and the cause of the uninsured. As she learns more about what other medical centers are doing, she’s more impressed by CARES, which is a student-operated medical clinic that provides primary care, mental health, and physical therapy to the uninsured population in Charleston. The clinic serves as a wonderful community resource, and it makes medical students into better doctors by giving them clinical experience before they enter their practices, she said.
Her interest in helping disadvantaged populations came after a summer mission trip with her church to Honduras when she was in high school. “It was an eye-opening experience for me. It was what brought me into medicine. We saw some horrible things, and I was amazed at the lack of health care.”
Koval began exploring barriers to health care. In addition to her work with CARES, she is president of Global and Tropical Medicine Interest Group (GTMIG). Its purpose is to stimulate interest in global health through lectures, student interaction, and medical work abroad. Students discuss the diseases, health disparities, and environmental health concerns of nations around the world, and applies that knowledge locally in addressing how to provide health care constrained by limited resources to the underserved in the Charleston area.
One of her goals is to increase sensitivity among fellow students by raising awareness of global and local health care needs. She has learned firsthand about health care barriers from her participation with the Alliance for Hispanic Health, where she has seen the negative impact a language barrier can have in access to health care.
“I would have liked to have seen everyone grow up with the health opportunities that I have had. It’s a basic human need for someone to have quality health care and that applies whether it’s globally or locally like the CARES clinic.”
Koval, who also is part of the Presidential Scholars Program this year, loves  working with faculty on local public health projects. One project involves a needs assessment in a North Charleston community, evaluating the quality of living and the barriers to health care. “We’re the worker bees to help them develop this project,” said Koval. “It’s so neat to apply what you’re learning in class to a local project and seeing what’s available in your community and what these groups are doing to change things.”
Her experiences, both with her service projects and interacting with various community groups, such as Lowcountry AIDS Services, have given her a sense of empowerment about making change, she said. It gets tricky at times balancing all her extra-curricular activities and her studies. When she gets overwhelmed, she goes to get a home-cooked meal or to play a game with her seven nieces and nephews who live locally. She also enjoys yoga and listening to music.

The main way the 24-year-old student stays grounded, though, is to remember her calling.
“If I just sat in the library, I would lose why I went into medical school. I think for everyone in medical school, there’s an intellectual pull. But what’s even more important for me is the humanitarian pull,” she said. “Every evening has something going on. It’s an intense schedule, but I feel such a passion for these things.”

The National Women’s History Project, founded in 1980, is a non-profit educational organization committed to recognizing and celebrating the diverse and significant historical accomplishments of women. The national theme this year is “Writing Women Back Into History” in honor of the 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month celebrations. For information, visit

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.