MSU doctor and professor recognized with national medal for dedication to malaria
For Terrie Taylor, mentoring students, treating patients and discovering a groundbreaking cause of malaria among children helped mold her into a well-known and recognized physician and scientist across the world.
Taylor is a physician and professor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at MSU. She and her team began studying malaria in children 30 years ago at the suggestion of a government ministry.
“We were directed to malaria by the 'Ministry of Health' in Malawi,” Taylor said. “So 30 years ago when we started, we asked them what their research priorities were and they themselves identified severe malaria in children, so it was a nationally identified priority.”
Taylor spends half the year in Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa. The first half of the year in Malawi is all about the students, patients and data collection. The other half of the year at MSU is all about teaching, writing and analysis.
The opportunity to spend half of the year in Africa came from the idea and inspiration of the founding dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, or MSUCOM, Dr. Myron S. Magen.
“He had a vision way before global health was a buzz word that this was a good thing for his students,” Taylor said. “He wanted to position a faculty member engaged in research activity in a developing country that will be hospitable to the MSUCOM students.”
For her expertise in malaria in the college and in Malawi, Taylor was recently awarded the Ben Kean medal by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene for the fiscal year of 2016.
According to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, “The Ben Kean Medal is awarded to a clinician or educator whose dedication to clinical tropical medicine and impact on the training of students, fellows and/or practitioners of tropical medicine is in keeping with the tradition established by Dr. Kean.” The medal is awarded every three years.
“I was very touched by the Ben Kean award and the woman who organized the nomination, Lauren Cohee, is one of the most accomplished young people I have ever worked with,” Taylor said. “So to me it was quite a tribute that it came from her, because she is so stellar and I was really touched by the award… I have tried to be a good mentor all these years because you do want to bring along the next generation and it was very affirming to receive that award.”
In Malawi, Taylor spends her time working on different things primarily with a sole focus on malaria, an infectious blood disease caused by a parasite of plasmodium in the red blood cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Conducting malaria research among those living in Malawi and treating patients who might have the disease are examples of what Taylor does while in Malawi. Many of her patients are small children and children suffering severely from the disease.
While working in there, Taylor and her team discovered something groundbreaking — the causes of death in children with cerebral malaria, which is the deadliest form of the infectious disease.
Taylor said she attributed her success in mentoring and teaching as a key aspect of receiving the award.
“That’s not something that you’re often paid for, MSU pays you to teach and you’re paid to do research, but a lot of the mentoring happens in the little pockets of time in one’s day and ones week,” Taylor said. “When there are teachable moments or for protege’s, moments that are choke points in their life, where it's important to kinda be closely enough involved with them that you can jump in at a choke point and try to provide some useful direction.”
Kate Kelly, fourth-year medical student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said her experience in Malawi has been eye-opening and worthy so far.
“The experience has been awesome and eye-opening, not at all what I have imagined or expected,” Kelly said. “I think I’m learning a lot and enjoying the culture shock.”
Annie Azrak, another fourth-year medical student at MSUCOM, said being in Malawi has been very interesting and a beneficial learning experience for her.
“It’s a pretty interesting experience because during the week we’re working the hospital and during the weekends we’re doing traveling around to see the country, so the traveling part is beautiful and fun,” Azrak said. “The work in the hospital is fascinating just because we’ve learned enough about how the same illnesses are treated in our own country, and to see it also treated in a place that has a lot fewer resources is a really valuable learning experience for us.”