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Lazarus Family Scholarship Opens Doors for Students to Pursue Educational Opportunities

From the minute she started as an MD student at the George Washington University (GW), Cara Muñoz-Buchanan knew she wanted to help create an elective in criminal justice health. Just a few months ago that dream became a reality – in part thanks to the Lazarus Scholars in Health Care Delivery Program.

“I always was interested in criminal justice health. I used to shadow an OB-GYN in my home community of Las Vegas, and we used to go in and do first- and second-trimester wellness exams in the juvenile justice system,” said Muñoz-Buchanan, a fourth-year MD student at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). “Seeing the conditions [there] and reading about how women have to deliver if they are incarcerated … opened up a whole new world of social justice to me.”

Through their philanthropy, Gerald Lazarus, MD ’63, and his wife, Audrey Jakubowski Lazarus, PhD, established the scholarship program in 2006 to help medical students pursue extraordinary educational opportunities in health care. Students apply in the spring of their second year of medical school, and awardees receive up to $8,000 a year during their remaining time in school to fund their scholar experience.

Christina Pugliese, a third-year MD student and scholar recipient, plans to use the funds to take a year off from medical school to conduct research in Gabon and Sierra Leone.

“There’s absolutely no way something like this could occur without help, and I can’t express how grateful I am. These types of opportunities allow students to pursue their passions and to develop into clinical leaders, and I think it’s really exciting and wonderful,” she said.

With the help of David Diemert, MD, associate professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at SMHS, Pugliese, who has long had an interest in global health and infectious disease, connected with an infectious disease and tropical medicine specialist, Martin Grobusch, MD, PhD, who works at the University of Amsterdam.

She will work with him on a research project involving the use of point-of-care ultrasound as a way to aide in the management of malaria among children.

“Half of the year will be spent in Gabon, and then we’re planning on doing a complimentary study at another site in Sierra Leone. That way we can see whether the intervention is useful in different populations. Gabon is an upper-middle income country, while Sierra Leone is a low income country, so it’ll be interesting to look at both populations in one study,” she said.

For Muñoz-Buchanan, knowing that the scholarship selection committee believed in her and wanted to invest in her meant a great deal.

“Overall, I’ve felt like there was a lot of wonderful support given to me,” she said, adding that earning the scholarship came in part because of the guidance she received from Newton E. Kendig, MD, clinical professor of medicine at SMHS who heads GW’s Criminal Justice Health Initiative, and Lawrence “Bopper” Deyton, MD ’85, MSPH, senior associate dean for clinical public health, Murdock Head Professor of Medicine and Health Policy, and professor of medicine at SMHS.

Part of the elective Muñoz-Buchanan helped support is an opportunity for students to rotate through the D.C. Central Detention Facility. She’s both investing in her own education into criminal justice health by looking at professional certification opportunities, while also helping with the “nitty gritty” of getting the elective off the ground. That includes choosing books for the elective, helping with transportation costs to the detention facility, as well as submitting an abstract to the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health, which will be presented at their annual conference in March.

“That’ll be our first showcasing of how we created a roadmap for criminal justice health education in a med school curriculum,” she noted.

Fourth-year student Erin Flynn also expressed appreciation for the scholarship for allowing her to conduct research both in the United States and overseas. She is continuing research she started at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London with Imre Lengyel, PhD, currently a senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast.

The research is focused on pathologies in the retina that may indicate the development of Alzheimer’s. “Our hope is that one day ophthalmologists will be able to image and see manifestations in the eye to screen for the progression of dementia before it presents clinically,” she said.

Katherine Chretien, MD, associate dean for student affairs and professor of medicine at SMHS, who chairs the selection committee, said the program provides students with transformative opportunities that they wouldn’t normally be able to take to advance their professional development.

“Being involved in this this process for the last few years has been quite inspiring to me as a faculty member, to be able to see the types of opportunities awarded to our students because of the scholarship. It’s been very inspiring,” she said.

Applications for second-year MD students interested in the scholarship are due Jan. 7. Students must be officially enrolled in the Scholarly Concentration (Track) Program, or must be working closely with a faculty preceptor within SMHS or the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW.

For more information, and to apply for the scholarship, please contact the Office of Student Professional Enrichment at (202) 994-2295 or ospe@gwu.edu.