Meet the 2017 Operation Smile Research Fellows

Part of an international collaboration between the USC Institute for Global Health, Operation Smile and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the annual Operation Smile Research Fellowship offers scholars the opportunity to assist in researching the genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of oral clefts in children.

Please join us in welcoming our third cohort of Operation Smile Research Fellows: Master of Public Health candidates Chantel Aftab and Ashkan Nasr, and health and human sciences undergraduate Mahmoud Hamza. Learn more about their interests and work in this Q&A.

What degree/s have you been pursuing?

Chantel: This is my fifth semester in the USC Master of Public Health Online program focusing on the global health leadership track. I am also the online student representative on the Master of Public Health Student Association (MaPHSA) student board.

Mahmoud: I am currently a senior studying health and human sciences with a minor in Spanish.

Ashkan: I am currently in the second term (first year) of my MPH program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and my area of study is global health leadership.

What are you looking forward to most as an Operation Smile research fellow?

Chantel: As an Operation Smile research fellow, I am looking forward to putting to use what I have learned in the classroom over the last year-and-a-half, and really getting my feet wet in making a difference in health on a global scale.

Mahmoud: As an Operation Smile research fellow, I look forward to gaining in-field global health experience and being actively involved in academic research and discovery. I am especially excited to be a part of the process in discovering more about the etiology of oral clefts as it can lead to more effective treatment and improving the quality of life of children around the world.

Ashkan: I look forward to working with vulnerable populations to explore and understand their health needs (physical and mental) as well as socioeconomic hardships.

How did you become interested studying/working in global health?

Chantel: Global health first became an interest of mine when I began volunteering with Healing Hearts Across Borders—a nonprofit that does medical missions to Tijuana, Mexico. Living in San Diego, I was shocked by the drastic health disparities between San Diego and 20 miles south across the border.

Mahmoud: My interest in health first began when I decided to spend part of my weekends volunteering at my local hospital as a senior in high school. However, it was not until I took a sociology of health class at USC that I was first introduced to the concept of public health in an academic setting. I became very interested in the topic and decided to major in health and human sciences, with a concentration in international health. Eventually, I wanted to get involved in public health in a research setting and joined the Health, Emotion, and Addiction Lab as a research assistant during my sophomore year at USC. This experience allowed me to gain many practical skills as well as see real world applications of public health, as the lab focused on combustible and electronic cigarette smoking addiction. With each experience, my interest in public and global health continues to grow and I believe that the Operation Smile research fellowship will be the most valuable opportunity yet because of the amazing real-world experience that it affords.

Ashkan: As an individual who has lived in multiple countries around the world, I have observed firsthand how factors such as socioeconomic status, level of education and the physical environment affect the overall health of populations. I am looking forward to contributing to a movement that transforms the current biomedical approach to global health into one that focuses more heavily on social determinants of health.

What are your plans/hopes after you graduate?

Chantel: After graduation I hope to pursue a career in medicine where I strongly feel I can put to use a dual MD and MPH degree in impacting the health of the underserved directly as a clinician, but with the cultural competency and awareness I have developed in this program.

Mahmoud: In the next year, I plan to apply to medical schools and pursue a Master of Global Medicine at USC in my gap year. During this time, I hope to learn more about global health and gain hands-on experience and learn from professionals in the field. During medical school, I hope to take some time off in order to pursue global health research through a Fulbright or alternative research fellowship. Eventually, I hope to become a physician practicing medicine both in the United States as well as abroad, potentially through an organization such as Doctors Without Borders. More specifically, I hope to be in a position to treat disease, such as tuberculosis and malaria, that have most heavily impacted populations in developing nations.

Ashkan: I am planning to begin medical school and pursue my residency in plastic surgery in the future. I would like to become a medical doctor who not only cares for the health of patients at his clinic, but contributes to the population and public health globally through research and collaborative intercontinental interventions.