Student spotlight: Sarah Kaslow


In this inaugural post of the JSCOR blog reboot, Sarah Kaslow describes her experiences as a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health MPH student participating in the JSCOR Surgery Faculty-Student Mentoring Program.

As a third year medical student planning to apply for residency in General Surgery, an attending surgeon challenged my decision to pursue a degree in public health. “Surgery is really an individual specialty. What are you going to do with a degree in public health in Surgery?” For several months after accepting my offer at admission at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health I didn’t have a good answer.

I had always considered getting a Masters of Public Health (MPH), even as an undergraduate at Claremont McKenna College. The Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program there trained me to interpret and critique theoretical positions, to apply standard economic models to contemporary problems, and to organize empirical data in a rigorous and unbiased manner. I had enjoyed examining the intersection and interaction of these different disciplines, especially as they impacted health. I eventually decided to attend medical school with the intention of returning to my interests in public health and broadening my impact as a physician.

If you had asked me as a first or second year medical student, I would have definitively told you that I was going to be a Pediatric Infectious Disease doctor. But when I stepped into the operating room on the first day of third year, I knew I’d be a surgeon. I remember the day I tied my first knot, threw my first stitch, and the first operation where I was first assist. But more importantly, I remember those people whose lives were improved with surgery in a matter of hours. As I thought about how I might improve patient outcomes and provide care to more people in need, I circled back to public health. As a medical student in Baltimore, I recognized the opportunity to study public health at a premier school and refine my understanding of the connection between surgery and public health.

After starting the MPH Program and finding the Johns Hopkins Surgery Center for Outcomes Research (JSCOR) MPH Student Mentoring Program, led by Elliott Haut and Joe Canner, it quickly became clear that I could be both an agent of change at the individual level while examining the larger picture. As I gained familiarity with analytical dataset including the NSQIP, NIS, and the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission datasets, I learned to address questions of individual practice and examine healthcare policy with administrative data. I was also able to tailor my coursework to quality of medical care, patient safety, and outcomes research, essential and increasingly important components of healthcare in general and surgery more specifically.

As part of the JSCOR MPH Mentoring Program, I was paired with Dr. Gina Adrales, director of the Division of Minimally Invasive Surgery, and we quickly developed a strong mentor-mentee relationship. Our interests in health policy, improving patient outcomes, and general surgery are well-aligned. Throughout the year we’ve been working on an exciting project examining the influence of implementation of the Global Budget Revenue model in the state of Maryland on outcomes in patients following ventral hernia repair, a project that would develop into my MPH Capstone. Our work together has allowed me to examine how state healthcare policy may shape clinical practice and decision making—another apt demonstration of the intersection of public health and surgery. Beyond this work together, Dr. Adrales has served as professional and personal role model.

As the MPH program draws to an end and I return for my final year of medical school, I feel I have a unique perspective on the connection of public health and surgery. With a new set of quantitative and qualitative evaluation skills and a formal background in quality improvement, patient safety, and outcomes research. I look forward to a career that can help save the lives of individual patients and improve the quality of surgical care more broadly.

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