UB medical student headed to NIH for health disparities research

Jul 8, 2019

A University at Buffalo medical student will spend the next year at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland, as part of a prestigious research fellowship. Esha Chebolu is one of 50 students from across the country who were selected to participate in the 2019-2020 Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP).


The NIH MRSP is a career-making opportunity for future clinician-scientists like 25-year-old Chebolu, who’s originally from Watertown, New York. The fellowship gives medical, dental and veterinary students the opportunity to spend an academic year conducting research at one of the NIH’s many laboratories or clinics under the guidance of a seasoned mentor.

Esha Chebolu, a University at Buffalo medical student, will participate in the 2019-2020 Medical Research Scholars Program at the NIH.
Credit Sandra Kicman/University at Buffalo

Chebolu, who just finished her third year at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, plans to pursue her interest in studying health disparities—how social, behavioral and economic factors affect health outcomes.

“I think especially in medicine people think, ‘Oh there’s this algorithm for how I’m going to treat [a patient]. I’m going to give them this medication and they should get better,’” Chebolu said. “But that’s not the case. The outcomes you have based on where these people are coming from are so different. You could give them the same treatment and you’re just going to see a difference in how they react to it and if they get better or not.”

During her time at the Jacobs School, Chebolu has led street rounds and served on leadership team of UB Heals, a medical outreach program that works with Buffalo’s homeless population.

Chebolu, right, provides treatment during a UB Heals street round.
Credit Thomas Mangione Photography

“We went out and we provided medicine and treatment and sometimes just a conversation to people on the streets. We met them out there where they were, which I really liked.”

Similarly, Chebolu said she enjoys and hopes to work in emergency medicine—because you never know what you’re going to encounter.

“You’re just seeing so many different kinds of patients,” she said. “It could be a cold or it could be someone bleeding out.”

The NIH research program Chebolu will start later this month prepares students for a career in academic medicine, a different path than that of doctors who focus solely on treating patients.

“When you’re in academic medicine, you’re pushing the envelope. You see where the needs are—where people are suffering without adequate or sufficient remedies for that suffering,” said Dr. Susan Leitman, academic director of the Medical Research Scholars Program.

Dr. Leitman said that clinician-scientists contribute to the overall field of medicine with their research, whether it focuses on cancers, genetic disorders or crises like the current opioid epidemic, which is a field Chebolu has already conducted research in. Earlier this year, she was the lead author of an article in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment about pregnant and parenting women with opioid use disorder. That experience made her a good fit for the research program.

“She expressed a genuine, clear interest in research to improve the care of vulnerable populations, particularly on care given in the emergency department setting,” said Dr. Leitman. “And she could express what she wanted her research career in emergency medicine to look like, which is pretty mature for a third-year medical student.”

Chebolu and the other fellowship participants will choose a specific NIH institute and mentor to work with once the program starts.

“[The program] is all about taking this idea you have and making it a reality,” Chebolu told WBFO. “And I think that’s very cool because sometimes you feel like, ‘Oh, I’m just a med student. What can I really do?’”

Dr. Leitman said Chebolu joins an impressive group of Jacobs School students who have participated in the research program—there have been one or two University at Buffalo medical students every year for the past six years (the program launched in 2012).

“They’ve been universally outstanding, and hopefully comprise some of the future leaders in American medicine,” Dr. Leitman said. She also added that she hopes some of the Jacobs and MRSP alumni will return to upstate New York.

Chebolu will move back to Buffalo to complete her final year of medical school next year. After that, she said she's excited to see where the research program and her medical career will lead.