Published February 19, 2020
Karole Collier, medical student, addresses healthcare disparities, awarded Cook Medical Travel Grant for research.
Karole Collier doesn’t only believe “good care is good care,” she’s studied it.
Collier, a third year MD candidate at UBMD, researched racial and ethnic disparities in esophageal cancer patients, examining whether patients undergoing esophagectomy receive equitable care when treated at high-volume centers. Her study, conducted with Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s esophageal surgery program Daniela Molena, found no difference in patient outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering, regardless of patients’ race or ethnicity. Collier presented her findings at the 2019 Society of Black Academic Surgeons Conference in April. Her presentation, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Outcomes after Esophagectomy are Eliminated with Treatment at a High-Volume Center,” earned her an invitation to SBAS’ 29th Annual Meeting and a Cook Medical Travel Grant to get there.
Collier is the first of her family to go to college. She said medical school can leave students “constantly doubting” themselves, and the award helped validate the work she is doing.
“I’ve had a series of firsts and feeling out of place,” Collier said. “So it was a really cool moment for someone to one, recognize me, but two, say ‘We really resonated with your effort and we want you to be applauded for your work.’ That’s kind of cool, especially when you’re so far down on the totem pole.”
Collier said she didn’t know she received the letter until mid-July, as she began studying for her U.S. Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 exam immediately after the conference.
“Most students, like myself, they go into hibernation mode [preparing for the exam]. They eat the same thing every morning, they do the same amount of questions every day. You become a little bit of a robot for seven weeks,” Collier joked of her intense work ethic. “So I think I received [the letter] a little earlier but I did not check my mail.”
Collier has attended the SBAS Conference for three years and said presenting was “exciting, scary and rewarding.” She said it helped affirm her career aspirations, which are, in part, inspired by mentors like Steven Schwaitzberg, UB’s chair of surgery.
“I see how much he’s able to make change in other people’s lives. He often goes to bat for new ideas and innovation. … I look up to what he’s able to accomplish,” Collier said. “He’s not one thing. He’s not just an educator, he’s not just a professor of surgery, he’s not just a chairman. He’s all of the above. And I really look forward to a career where I’m able to combine [those roles] in that way.”
Collier said the invitation to SBAS’ Annual Meeting was encouraging as an “aspiring surgeon,” that her work is “worth contributing.”
“It gives me permission to continue to be myself. My research was based off my bread and butter, I’m always interested in looking at health disparities and how to bring light to them,” Collier said. “And luckily, in this particular research opportunity, I was able to show a very common sense end point that if we can get more people interested in giving this type of care, regardless of who the person is, [and] push for more physicians to be cognizant of this access issue, then we may have larger scale change in the health disparities field, i.e., having less of them. And I think that’s true to who I am, that’s true to my core, that’s true to my mission.”