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Fourth-Year Medical Student Reflects on Global Health Work

Aparna Nutakki

Aparna Nutakki, a fourth-year Rush Medical College student, a soon-to-be graduate and an inspiring woman was featured last June in Rush Uni​versity News for raising funds with Project CURE and NTR Health Trust to provide medical supplies for India.  

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on India was significantly exacerbated by shortages of medical resources. Nutakki created her first-ever fundraiser and raised $13,000, which was used to purchase medical beds, supplies and equipment. 

Nutakki stands out as a woman making history today at the college. Jay M. Behel, PhD, associate dean of medical student affairs, and Elizabeth A. Baker, MD, MHPE, senior associate dean of undergraduate medical education at the college, cite this impressive global health work.

"Aparna is an excellent example of a student charting their own path,” Behel says.  “From very early on in her medical education, Aparna had a very clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish as a physician. She then made a point of connecting with mentors and cultivating opportunities both within and outside Rush that have helped her realize that vision. We will be incredibly proud to call her a Rush graduate next month."  

Finding inspiration

Nutakki was born in India and grew up in the United States. After graduating from college, she went to India to connect with her heritage and work with a fellowship program in the public health sector.

It is there that she found her inspiration to pursue the field of global health. She had also previously volunteered at free clinics for underserved communities in Chicago and found striking similarities in both places.

"There is opportunity everywhere to improve the disparity of access to health care, domestically and globally,” Nutakki says. 

During her first year at Rush University, she discovered a research opportunity in Zambia, Africa. While slightly nervous, Nutakki was encouraged by supportive mentors to take a two-year leave from medical school and go to Zambia.

At the University Teaching Hospital in Zambia in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital and largest city, Nutakki worked closely on several projects with Deanna Saylor, MD, MHS, assistant professor of neurology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. They included creating a complete registry of neurological conditions at Zambia’s national referral hospital. Another project ​was exploring alternate clinical ways to diagnose stroke patients instead of computerized tomography scanners, as the availability of this technology can be limited in the region.

Unfortunately, in the middle of her research, Nutakki had to leave Zambia quickly due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Finishing on top

Currently, Nuttaki is completing her medical degree and will graduate this April. However, she will not wear the traditional graduation mortarboard and gown, as she is returning to Zambia for five weeks to finish her research work, reconnect with colleagues and find closure to this experience. She is a little sad that she won’t be able to celebrate with this amazing class of graduates, but also excited to go back to work on what she loves.

“Advice I would give to any woman, or any medical student at Rush University, is to be open to all available opportunities and experiences or create your own, as this is such a supportive and kind community,” she says. “Never be afraid to start something new.”

Nutakki will focus on health disparities within the field of neurology and will start a residency at John Hopkins this summer. She will continue to be open to opportunities, as she has found purpose and inspiration in every experience.