UC cardiologist receives Fulbright award

Dr. Hanan Kerr plans to create a cardiovascular training program in Rwanda

Five years ago, Hanan Kerr, MD, associate professor in the UC College of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, joined a nonprofit group bringing cardiology care to the central African county of Rwanda. That experience led her to return to the country twice more, and in 2019 to create the UC Rwanda Initiative to help bring advanced cardiovascular training to Rwandan physicians.

The country of 12 million has a medical school and teaching hospital in the capital city of Kigali, but has no advanced cardiovascular training available. Physicians desiring such training must travel out of the country.

Seven UC faculty involved in the UC Rwanda Initiative had planned rotating two-week visits to Rwanda in 2020 to provide in-person training and help establish a structured cardiology training program, but the pandemic prevented the team from traveling. Instead, they have been conducting virtual training through biweekly Zoom seminars.

Kerr is now planning a 10-month visit to Rwanda in 2022 to help develop a cardiovascular training program after receiving a Fulbright U.S. Scholar fellowship. The Fulbright Scholar Program will provide her travel and living costs during her stay in and around Kigali.

Portrait of Dr. Hanan Kerr

Hanan Kerr, MD. Photo submitted.

“The resources there from an educational standpoint are so limited,” Kerr says. “There are only five adult cardiologists in the whole country. They’re working so hard to take care of the burden of cardiovascular disease, which is so huge. It’s overwhelming. The educational piece is missing. Every time I talked with people in leadership they said what they really need is a training program.”

Kerr says she admires the Rwandan people. “They’re lovely, wonderful, kind, courteous, resilient and you are just drawn to them. It’s really a wonderful country.”

“I think it’s a country that has overcome huge devastation in their history with the genocide in 1994,” she continues. “They’ve come out exceedingly strong and driven and hardworking, and very committed to peace and education. When you go to the country, you can feel that commitment, you can feel that these are people who work hard and they want to better the country. I feel the infrastructure in Rwanda is there to actually gain benefit from everything that we’re doing, the stability is there and the drive is there.”

When she gets back to Rwanda she will be partnering with the Ministry of Health, the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), King Faisal Hospital, Rwanda Military Hospital, and other organizations to develop a curriculum and grow a cardiovascular training program. She also will be lecturing at conferences, teaching the residents and medical students, and developing relationships to facilitate the training program. While some of her teaching will be conducted at the bedside, she will not be providing clinical care. Kerr will be collecting data on the impact of her educational efforts and to ensure it is a valuable educational experience for the Rwandans.

“Going to Rwanda with a Fulbright scholarship will give me the opportunity to continue to grow our relationship with the faculty, students and trainees,” Kerr says. “It will allow me to restructure the curriculum in a way that will serve their needs. I’ll also explore how we can keep the graduating trainees involved in our program so they can be the future mentors and teachers in Rwanda, which will strengthen and empower their academic standards.”

Dr. Hanan Kerr with cardiologist outside Rwandan hospital

Dr Hanan Kerr with Dr. Gloria Mukeshimana. Photo submitted.

Kerr hopes the program will evolve into a strong relationship between Rwanda and the UC Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease. She anticipates that UC faculty, fellows and residents will visit Rwanda on a regular basis in the future to teach and that Rwandan physicians will come to UC to advance their training. She is even hoping that other U.S. medical schools will join in the program.

Kerr also sees this experience helping improve her teaching of UC medical students and trainees.

“I think this will allow me to bring back more concrete ways of testing our educational processes. I think also being in Rwanda, you’re much more sensitive to looking at the culture, looking at the patients’ socioeconomic background. Can they get their medicines? You have to look at the patient more as a whole. You look at all the determinants of health, not just providing treatment. That’s what we want our physicians and trainees to do, to look at the patient as a whole, to look at all the social determinants of health, and not just physical wellbeing. It teaches you to do that when you’re working in areas like Rwanda. It makes you more sensitive and respectful to their cultural differences. It makes us more empathic and understanding and to think outside the box a bit,” Kerr says.

Despite a world where the pandemic continues to rage in some spots and other areas with ongoing military conflicts, Kerr says she feels comfortable traveling to Rwanda. The country has adopted English as its official language. She feels safe traveling there alone as the country has maintained political stability. Her daughter, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, and her son, a business student at Indiana University, plan to visit her in Rwanda.

“They’re really proud of me,” Ker says. “My daughter is very interested in global health. They know I’ve been interested in this a long time so they know this is a very good thing.”

“I truly believe that my purpose in this chapter of my career is to strengthen cardiovascular education for the students and trainees in Rwanda,” she adds.

Featured image of Hanan Kerr, MD, by Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.

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