Erika Chelales completed the Global Health Graduate Certificate through the Duke Global Health Institute while pursuing a master’s degree and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. While conducting research in the Duke Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies (GWHT), she mentored more than two dozen Duke students and created an eight-week program for high school students interested in engineering. In March, she was awarded the 2023 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring.
My dissertation topic is … “Injectable Ablation Technique for Cancer Treatment Across Clinical Settings.” My focus was on the development of a novel and low-cost ablation method for cancer treatment in low- and middle-income countries. Ablation is a minimally invasive procedure to treat cancerous lesions by thermal or chemical means, without removing tissue from the body. We developed an injectable technique using ethanol and the polymer ethyl cellulose, which reduces ethanol leakage and enhances treatment localization and efficacy. My work was done through the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies.
I enrolled in the graduate certificate program because … What drives me in science is health equity. I’m passionate about improving healthcare access through engineering and eager to understand global health systems in more nuanced ways. When I was at Tulane University as an undergrad, Nimmi Ramanujam, director of the GWHT, gave a talk about the work they do at the center. That was inspiring for me and is why I applied to Duke.
What’s next for me after Duke … I’ll be teaching with Duke Pre-College Programs as an instructor for “Engineering Solutions for Global Health: The Human Centered Design Process.” I was an instructor for this program in 2021 and 2022. I’m still job searching right now, and I hope to move to Denver. I love the outdoors, and I have friends and family in that area.
My interest in mentoring comes from … past mentors – formal and informal – for whom I have extreme gratitude. There were a lot of people who gave me opportunities when I had no experience, and I seek to create those opportunities for students as well. Mentoring is one of the most fulfilling parts of my past five years at Duke.
My research taught me global health is … complex. There are so many people and entities involved. I learned implementing new health care options or changing current paradigms is a lot of work, and there are many [stakeholders] to get on board when getting people better access to treatment. My perspective on global health broadened when you see how many pieces have to work together to have a high impact.
My advice for future Ph.D. students is … Follow your passions and do research that gets you excited to keep you going. The Ph.D. journey is long and taxing, and there were a lot of things I changed in my approach from the beginning to the end of my program. Also, it’s really important to get other people involved in your research from different fields. It will help you have a well-rounded perspective that makes your work stronger.
And for the Global Health Graduate Certificate, it’s something I did throughout my entire program so it was beneficial to have those seminars and classes throughout my research work.
(To complete the certificate program, graduate students must complete three courses, a graduate seminar and an optional field-based experience. Learn more here).