Five weeks left in Botswana

29 03 2011

By Paul Sonenthal

On May 1st I will be boarding a plane back to the United States. Although my fellowship will not be over—I still have to spend about two months working on polishing and presenting the results of my work—it feels like the past 7 months have flown by. A sentiment which was underscored during a brief trip I took to the US last week where I met with applicants interviewing for the next Doris Duke Fellowship class at UPenn. It certainly wasn’t very long ago that I was in their shoes.

With so little time left, I am feeling a mixture of stress (there is so much I still want to get done) and pride (our research team has accomplished a lot):

• We started initial work on a protocol to examine the long-term impact of efavirenz on weight gain, a project which will hopefully be taken up by next year’s Doris Duke Fellow.

• An abstract of ours was recently accepted at an upcoming conference on HIV adherence.

• My Coping Project has over 70 enrollees– just shy of halfway to the target enrollment

• We are close to completing the first draft of the Parasuicide Project report.

I have come to accept that 8 months is not a very long time to spend conducting research in a foreign country. In retrospect, it took me at least 3 months before I started to feel comfortable working in the clinical environment, before I understood how incredibly important it is to build trusting relationships with colleagues and stakeholders, as well as the time and patience these relationships require.

Furthermore, there have been many unexpected barriers along the way. The biggest for me was enrollment. When I initially designed my coping project, I anticipated enrolling around 8 patients a week. Although we are now at that level, it took us 3 months before we figured out how to get it done.

Given all these limitations, I’m just grateful that the Botswana-Upenn Partnership has staff in place to continue my project after I’m gone. Otherwise, I would probably end up taking a second research year. Instead, my focus can shift to writing manuscripts and preparing presentations on the work I have already completed as well as making sure the mechanisms are in place to continue collecting data on the Coping Project after I’m gone.

Hanging around the lab

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