May 18, 2009

Graduate student wins Fulbright Scholarship

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE -- A graduate student is Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s second Fulbright Scholarship winner for 2009.

Sameer S.Vohra, a graduate student in the joint law/medical program at SIUC, will travel to India next year to pursue research. Vohra joins fellow SIUC student Joe Batir in this year’s SIUC Fulbright class.

Vohra, of Westmont, proposed a projected titled “Improving Pediatric Health Care: A Needs-Based Assessment of Niloufar Pediatric Hospital.” Niloufar is the largest children's hospital in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, and it focuses on serving the region’s poverty-stricken children.

Vohra said he wants to help people who are less fortunate by acquiring the skills to be a doctor and a lawyer and using the Fulbright to foster leadership, learning and empathy between cultures.

“With one year before I begin my residency and devote my life to pediatrics in our great country, I wanted to go back to the land of my forefathers to improve the health and safety of children in India,” he said. “I knew that the Fulbright program was my opportunity, and I was anxious for weeks as I awaited the decision. When I opened the envelope and read that the Institute of International Education had awarded me a grant, I jumped up with joy as if I had hit the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals. It was and still remains wonderful news, and I feel so lucky to be given the opportunity to represent my country in this way.”
Vohra, the son of Saifi and Fatema Vohra, said he selected the challenging JD/MD program at SIUC after debating whether to pursue a career as a lawyer or a doctor during his undergraduate studies.

“Ever since grade school, I knew that I wanted to be a doctor,” he said. “Doctors were real-life heroes, and they improved and fixed one of the few things that is universally valued -- health.Yet, in college, I started to see the ability to effect positive change on a societal level, and it became clear to me that law and policy were the mechanism to uplift entire communities.

“Each goal served a cause that I did not want to sacrifice, and I did not know if my skills were better served helping individuals with their health or society through policy. This dual degree gave me an opportunity that I previously had not contemplated. I could do both. “

Tom Saville, associate director for study abroad in International Programs and Services at SIUC, said Vohra is a bright student who is using the joint degree program to pursue his interests in two challenging fields, particularly in health policy as it relates to children.

“He is passionate about improving health conditions for children all over the world,” Saville said. “The goal of the Fulbright program is to enhance mutual understanding among nations and Sameer's proposal epitomizes that goal. He will be able to learn from his colleagues in India and also to make a real contribution to policy relating to pediatric health care.”

Vohra’s nine-month project will provide recommendations for hospital management that will improve outcomes for patients there. He will focus the recommendations on the general pediatrics ward and possibly expand those to pediatric intensive care and pediatric casualty wards.

“The larger goal is to create a set of guidelines and policy proposals that can be adapted to hospitals all across the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh,” he said. “When I return, I will have gained an education unique to the American medical student with in-depth training in international impoverished patient care.

“This will be the perfect bridge, as I begin the next stage of my career dedicated to improving children's health care. I will begin with a residency and specialization in pediatrics and will culminate in active efforts to work on domestic and international health policy efforts either in government or the private sector,” he said.

The Fulbright program, named for former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, provides grants for university faculty and students.