Bringing Teledermatopathology to Malawi

An Interview with the Derm from the Heart Grant Awardees

In 2015, Travis Morrell, MD, MPH and Ashley Hamstra, MD were awarded the Dermatologist from the Heart grant giving them the opportunity to bring a teledermatopathology lab to Malawi, Africa.   The Dermatologist from the Heart grant program is sponsored by La Roche-Posay and dedicated to young dermatologists committed to making their skills and knowledge available to a broader public.

Next Steps in Derm had the opportunity to interview the grant awardees and learn what it’s like to bring dermatology services to an African nation with intermittent electricity. If you are interested in applying for the Dermatology from the Heart grant award,  click here.

Drs. Morrell and Hamstra, you were awarded the Dermatologist From the Heart award grant. Congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit about the work you conducted with this grant?

In 2015 we were fortunate to be awarded $10,000 from La Roche-Posay, which was matched dollar for dollar by Adventist Health International, to build a teledermatopathology lab and conduct a dermatology course for primary care providers in Malamulo, Malawi. Over the following year, we heavily researched how to build a teledermatopathology lab on a $20,000 budget from scratch in a region where electric power is intermittent and there is minimal existing laboratory intrastructure. We bought predominantly used hardware and had to get creative and have some items custom made. 

In November 2016, we traveled to Malamulo Hospital and successfully assembled the lab. We also gave a dermatology course to the local providers and conducted dermatology consults.

Can you tell us a little bit about the award and why you applied? 

To us, the Dermatologist From the Heart grant was about promoting small, meaningful projects aimed at alleviating suffering in a new way. In our specific case, it was about improving access to healthcare in one of the poorest regions of the world. 

Describe your dermatology interests and factors that influenced you?

International health has been an interest for both of us. We both had done rotations in Africa during medical school. During dermatology residency, we talked about finding a way to support onsite providers in Africa in an ongoing, sustainable way. Dr. Carrie Kovarik’s work in Botswana and our personal experiences in Africa definitely shaped our approach to the project.

Can you tell us about the anticipated outcome of the teledermatopathology lab and how the Malamulo, Malawi community will benefit from it?

The lab was successfully assembled in 2015. The catchment area for the hospital network is approximately one million people. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. There is one dermatologist in a nearby city and no dermatopathologist. The need is enormous.

You were selected from a group of applicants, how did you hear about this grant?

La Roche-Posay sent out a mailer to our residency program. One of our attendings, Dr. Sharon Jacob, saw it and encouraged us to apply for it.

Could you tell us a little more about the stops in your dermatology career so far?

Dr. Travis Morrell is currently a dermatopathology fellow at the University of Massachusetts. He completed his dermatology residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Dr. Ashley Hamstra is a dermatologist and dermatopathologist in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Spokane, Washington area. She completed her dermatopathology fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina and her dermatology residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

What motivates you?

Dr. Hamstra’s grandfather was a missionary doctor in Botswana and Rwanda for decades. It was there that her father was born and raised. She had always known that she wanted to serve in Africa in some capacity. Dr. Morrell had done international medical work and has had friends that moved to Africa as medical missionaries. He also wanted to make steps to address the massive unmet need for dermatologic care in Africa.

What is next for you professionally?

For now we love doing our free teledermatology consults and growing relationships with the onsite providers in Africa.

Any potential words of wisdom for others who are interested in applying for this grant?

There are so many unexplored areas in dermatology, both locally and internationally. Find a specific one that means something to you. Plan out a first step on that journey and write a grant for it. A little intentionality and a little enthusiasm go a long way.

Interested in Applying?

Dermatologist from the Heart grant program, sponsored by La Roche-Posay, is accepting applications for community-oriented outreach projects that enhance the quality of life for dermatology patients. Projects should fall within one of the five categories:

  1. Information and Prevention
  2. Health Professional Training
  3. Advice and Support
  4. Improving Social Integration
  5. Improving Access to Healthcare

Applicants should be dermatology residents or dermatologists within their first five years of practice in order to be eligible for up to $10,000 in grant awards.

Prepare your abstract (1 page), research plan and budget (8 page maximum), C.V. and letter of support from a mentor or chief of dermatology and click here to submit your Dermatologist from the Heart application materials. 

Download the Brochure

Submissions are due by September 22, 2017

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