Announced today, UCSF medical student Sheantel Reihl was awarded a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a highly competitive graduate school fellowship for immigrants and children of immigrants.
Reihl, who emmigrated from Trinidad & Tobago with her family at age 13, is a first-generation college graduate and a 2nd -year medical student at UCSF. Having experienced the challenges of navigating the U.S. healthcare system as both an undocumented immigrant and a teen mother without insurance or financial resources, she is passionate about addressing health disparities and equity.
“I always had this really intimate feeling of wanting to take care of a community, especially the community I came from,” said Reihl. “Being an immigrant, being from a low-income family, being a minority – but also having an intellectual interest in science – medicine seemed to be the way to fill both those roles at the same time without feeling like I’m giving up one thing for the other.”
As an undergraduate at Georgetown University, Reihl conducted research in mental health help-seeking and stigma reduction in Latino and African-American communities. Now at UCSF, with the mentorship of neurosurgeon Shawn Hervey-Jumper, MD, she is continuing research on health access and equity in neurosurgery and neuro-oncology, especially as it pertains to immigrants, minorities, and low-income families.
“Dr. Hervey-Jumper is already showing me how you can accomplish being a scientist and a clinician. That’s my goal for the future, to carve out a space for myself in neurosurgery, looking at social determinants of health, but also being a surgeon,” said Reihl.
Her research in the Hervey-Jumper Lab currently focuses on two areas: 1) How clinicians make decisions on surgery and clinical trials for patients with brain tumors and 2) how patients make decisions on whether to enroll in brain tumor clinical trials.
While Reihl found no racial biases in how clinicians were making decisions, she did find that insurance and economic status correlated with a patient’s decision to decline clinical trials. Lower income patients were more likely to decline due to a belief that the trials would cost more, even though the studies have no cost.
“If we’re going to move forward, we have to figure out how to take down the barriers that seem to be heavily weighted on minorities and lower income people,” explains Reihl. Findings like these provide a learning point for how to improve communication with patients during the enrollment process, and ultimately address disparities in clinical trial enrollment.
Reihl was awarded the UCSF Neurosurgery Department Chair’s Summer Research Fellowship in 2018 for this work.
Now, as a 2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, Reihl will receive $90,000 in financial support for her graduate studies, and will be joining a prestigious community of nearly 625 former fellows. Past recipients include former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and California’s first Surgeon General, Nadine Burke-Harris.
The fellowship was founded by Hungarian immigrants Daisy Soros and her late husband Paul Soros, as a way to honor and celebrate the contributions of generations of immigrants. Each year, the program invests in the graduate education of 30 new Americans selected for their potential to make significant contributions across all aspects of U.S. society, culture, and academia.
“It means so much to me,” says Reihl about the fellowship, “to help bridge that gap of coming here, starting over, having nothing, and trying to pursue higher education – which is by itself so difficult. The foundation really cares about facilitating a future for people like me, and that’s a really good feeling.”