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Medical Student Profile: Dana Potashner

MSIH offers a unique MD program that tends to attract non-traditional medical students, some of whom come with fascinating prior experiences in global health. For this medical student profile, we spoke with first-year student Dana Potashner to learn more about what led her to MSIH. 

First-year student, Dana Potashner, first became interested in Global Health after a trip to Tanzania where she shadowed a local doctor. (Pictured above with a newborn at Iringa Regional Hospital, Tanzania.)

“I was looking for a career direction and this was a great opportunity offered by my school,” she explained.

Dana – who has an undergraduate degree in Life Sciences from Queen’s University – is no stranger to healthcare; her father is a Toronto rheumatologist, her mother a speech-language pathologist, and she recently worked at LMC Healthcare, an endocrinology clinic in Toronto.

What steps led you toward MSIH?

“Following my experience in Tanzania and extensive participation in global health-oriented clubs during my undergraduate degree, I signed up to do a Master’s in Global Health at McMaster University. Of course, after graduation, the next natural step was to apply to MSIH.”

During her degree at McMaster, Dana was part of a six-person team that developed a Global Health Intervention.

“I worked with people online in the Netherlands and in other parts of Canada. Our project was to improve hygiene in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya.

In the camp, the latrines are incredibly unhygienic due to overcrowding and insufficient waste disposal. They overflow everywhere and if not properly maintained, waste seeps into the soil and contaminates groundwater, leading to disease – which disproportionately affects children. There’s an existing technology that takes human feces and converts it into charcoal briquettes for fuel. Our project was to work with the community in Dadaab to figure out a way of using the existing latrine infrastructure to extract feces and convert as practically and efficiently as possible to provide an affordable and clean-burning fuel source.”

Ultimately the project won first prize when the team presented it in person at a pitch in Manipal, India.

Dana Potashner winning 2018 Global Health Symposium, India
Dana Potashner winning 2018 Global Health Symposium, Manipal University, India

“We were so excited,” said Dana. “The presentation was the first time we’d met in person, and to win a first prize out of 50 entrants was quite an achievement!”

What kinds of research led you to pursue an MD?

Dana also completed a literature review during her Master’s.

“I focused on the HIV-exposed, but uninfected infant population. What’s interesting is that because of successful global health interventions, rates for mother-to-child transmission of HIV have decreased dramatically around the world, but now there is a problem of the uninfected infants experiencing worse health outcomes in comparison to their unexposed counterparts.

Little research has been done about this population, and through my literature review, it became evident that there is an interplay between social and biological factors that are leading to poorer health outcomes. However, the exact mechanisms of immune dysfunction are still unknown and as a result, there is a lack of proper international guidelines to help this population.”

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Joining the MSIH community 

Asked about joining MSIH’s 1st-year introductory class in Global Health, Dana admits there’s some overlap, but her Master’s concentrated more on Social Sciences, while the MSIH Global Health course has a medical orientation.

Dana’s first experience in Israel was when she represented the Canadian gymnastics team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games.

“I think I was only 14 at the time but it was a life-changing experience.”

“Oh, and I took home a bronze medal,” she mentioned as an afterthought.

“I’m happier at MSIH than I thought I’d be,” she concluded. “There’s a sense of community, not only among students but the staff too. I really like it here.”

Dana’s life goal as a doctor is to formulate an infrastructure to help people who fall through cracks in the medical system.

“I don’t yet know how to do it, but so many people, from the elderly to the homeless don’t get the treatment they need. I’m hoping I’ll learn the tools while I’m studying at MSIH”

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