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There’s a popular saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

When Shilpa Murthy, MD, MPH, and John Scott, MD, MPH, were approached about giving a lecture to medical students about research methods as part of their global health work in Rwanda, they knew they needed to push for something longer-lasting; they needed to teach and not just give. “We knew that for change to be sustainable, it would have to come from within,” explained Murthy, a general surgery resident and research trainee at the Center for Surgery and Public Health (CSPH) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

She and Scott, a global health equity fellow in general surgery at CSPH, have been working under the leadership of Robert Riviello, MD, MPH, director of Global Surgery at CSPH, to increase medical capacity in the country of Rwanda, thanks in part to a strong relationship with Georges Ntakiyiruta, MMed, at the University of Rwanda. The relationship evolved out of BWH’s Human Resources for Health program, and has since grown to encompass several other research initiatives and side projects, including this research mentoring program.

In low- and middle-income countries like Rwanda, the focus for global health workers is often on improving access and quality of health care. Too often, providers in these settings are so overwhelmed with their clinical demands that they have little time to dedicate to research efforts. But research can play an important role in evaluating the effectiveness of training and education efforts, validating results and teaching critical thinking and analysis skills to local health workers, students and clinical staff.

“The program first started when Shilpa and I were approached by a medical student at the university who was interested in learning more about how he could become a researcher,” said Scott. “We were thrilled by his request, but we encouraged him to go through the University of Rwanda to make sure this wasn’t just a one-off lecture, but rather part of something bigger and more long-lasting. We wanted to do everything possible to help make his dream of founding a medical research center in Rwanda a reality.” That student, Norbert Uzabumwana, recruited one other, Grace Duhunze, and the two of them garnered the support of their medical school dean and research-oriented faculty. From there, plans for a two-day research seminar and accompanying mentorship program were born.

Together, the group has designed and conducted two two-day research training courses, hosted by the University of Rwanda. One hundred medical students were trained in basic research methods at each course. Uzabumwana and Duhunze facilitated the course, administered surveys, measured outcomes and evaluated effectiveness using pre- and post-surveys.

The ultimate goal of this mentorship relationship is to improve student knowledge and engagement with research. With that goal in mind, Murthy and Scott are working with Uzabumwana and Duhunze to take the findings they gathered from their two-day training course and transform them into an academic paper for publication under joint authorship. Murthy and Scott, in collaboration with Brenda Asiimwe-Kateera, MD, MPH, a research director from the University of Rwanda, have guided the students through the entire publication process, from completing a literature review and writing a proposal to data analysis and manuscript writing.

Right now, Murthy and Scott are both back in the United States, but they stay in touch with their mentees via email and Skype. The students submitted their IRB in January, finished conducting the first phase of data collection for their project in mid-May, and are currently in the process of documenting their work, writing the paper, and ensuring that this research conference continues in the years to come.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding to empower these students through research,” said Murthy. “In the United States, research capacity is something that we take for granted. Introducing Rwandan students to the research process and helping them understand the potential impact that research can have on improving on access, quality, and educational initiatives in healthcare has been both inspiring and humbling.”

“I am hopeful that the relationships we’ve formed with these students will last for the rest of our lifetimes,” said Scott. “It is exciting to see the tremendous support from the University of Rwanda and the way that the students are hungry to get involved in their own research. These students are the future leaders of research in Rwanda, and I know they have what it takes to making a lasting impact. They have really run with this project and made it their own.”

Thanks to the work of Murthy and Scott, support from the University of Rwanda, and the relentless perseverance of the medical students there, Rwanda will soon be home to a new flock of fishermen; a dedicated group of medical researchers who will continue to expand the country’s capacity not just for medical care, but for research that can document past successes and advocate for future support.