Donor Spotlight: Dennis Clements and Martha Ann Keels

Published April 26, 2016 under Education News

Dennis and Martha Ann

Dennis Clements and Martha Ann Keels

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to highlight the third in a series of profiles that highlight qualifying gifts for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Matching Grant. This dollar-for-dollar match is reserved for gifts that support priority areas for the Duke Global Health Institute: education programs, graduate fellowships, faculty support and international partnerships. Unrestrictive gifts for use at the discretion of the Institute director may also be given.

We recently talked with Dennis Clements, Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) senior advisor and professor of pediatrics, community and family medicine, and global health to learn more about why he and his wife, Martha Ann Keels, pediatric dentist and adjunct associate professor in  pediatrics, established the Dennis A. Clements and Martha Ann Keels Global Health Fund. 

This fund will provide support for experiential learning and research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and professional students pursuing global health studies in DGHI.

DGHI: What inspired your interest in global health?  

Clements: In 1972, I took a year off of medical school at the University of Rochester to do an honors fellowship at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda, where I did rounds on the children’s unit during the day and oversaw two units at night.

That year was transformative for me. I realized that everybody’s basically the same except for the chance of where you’re born, and it just didn’t seem right for people there not to have the same advantages that we had in the U.S. Ever since then, I’ve tried to help narrow that distance between the places with the most opportunities and those with the least opportunities. I believe that everyone ought to have equal opportunity.

Keels: I’ve also had similar experiences, spending time in Montserrat, Peru, Kenya and Honduras. On each occasion, I was struck by the presence of unhealthy American products. 

We have a huge responsibility to make global health a priority, and combatting the penetration of the fast food culture in low- and middle-income countries and communities should be part of our efforts. I have faith that today’s global health students will be well-positioned to provide this leadership in the future.

DGHI: What motivated you to make this gift?

Clements and Keels: We wanted to ensure that students who came here would have an opportunity to get some field experience. Experiencing another culture helps students become more culturally aware and sensitive and it ultimately makes them more effective in their future work. And funding for these kinds of experiences can be hard to come by.

DGHI: How do you hope this gift will advance DGHI’s mission of preparing the next generation of global health leaders?

Clements: Classroom learning simply isn’t enough to prepare students to do the global health work they’re likely to pursue in the future. To be effective in global health research or clinical practice, they need to get experience working in the field somewhere. Hopefully our fund will help facilitate that.

We were also drawn to invest in the Institute’s educational programs because we believe teaching can have such a broad impact on the world. Our faculty have the potential to affect so many people in what they do with their lives. 

DGHI: Look into the future and describe your vision of the Institute.

Clements: I think DGHI will continue to perform well in the research arena, but I would like to see it become better known for its educational component, from undergraduate through post-doctoral programs. The global health education process demands diverse, eclectic perspectives—including students, faculty and community partners around the world. I think our faculty is incredibly diverse. I also see a lot of humility among our faculty—and this is an important quality in global health. 

Learn more:

To be effective in global health research or clinical practice, students need to get experience working in the field somewhere. Hopefully our fund will help facilitate that.

Dennis Clements, DGHI professor and senior advisor