UW Implementation Science PhD student Grace Umutesi was selected for the Dr. Wasserheit Young Leader Award at the annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) conference, held virtually from March 12-14.

The award is given to an individual committed to reducing health disparities and improving global health outcomes for the vulnerable or the poor. To be eligible, a candidate must be under the age of thirty, possess a record of outstanding achievement, have collaborated with colleagues in resource limited settings, and demonstrate strong leadership abilities.

“Grace is passionate about improving the delivery of public health and health care interventions in sub-Saharan Africa” says Dr. Donna Denno, professor of global health at the University of Washington and faculty advisor to Grace. “I am confident that armed with the PhD training and skills she is developing through her academic work and RAship that she will make great strides in this area – contributing to reducing the burden of disease related to infectious diseases and surgical problems.”

Grace’s research focuses on infectious diseases, strengthening health systems and ensuring safe surgical care in low resource settings. Before beginning her PhD at UW, she was the manager of clinical programs at the Partners In Health’s sister organization in Rwanda, Inshuti Mu Buzima (PIH/IMB). Her CUGH conference poster, titled “Essential Surgical Care in Rural Rwandan District Hospitals: A Crucial Investment towards Achieving the Universal Health Care Coverage,” shared findings from a PIH/IMB-led quality improvement project undertaken at three rural Rwandan district hospitals.  

Along with assessing the hospitals’ readiness to provide safe surgery and anesthesia care, the research team implemented a 6-month prospective patient level data collection to assess perioperative outcomes of cases performed at these hospitals. The findings of this study will be leveraged to design interventions to improve patients outcomes and advocate for resources to strengthen surgical care at these facilities.

In addition to pursuing her PhD, Grace has worked with Dr. Denno on enteric dysfunction, enteric infection, and post-mortem minimally invasive tissue sampling studies. Despite these achievements, Grace says winning the award was a big surprise. One that reminded her to pause and celebrate milestones along her career path.

“It has never crossed my mind that I could be nominated for such a prestigious award, so being selected for the award was truly an honor,” she said. “It also gave me a great opportunity to reflect on my journey and truly appreciate all the wonderful mentors and friends who contributed (and continue to contribute) to my growth.”

Grace says she plans to continue her training through involvement in projects that address pressing global health issues, enhance her analytical and methods skills, and expand her network. Down the road, she hopes to rejoin the global health workforce in order to design,  implement, and evaluate innovative programs that improve patient outcomes in resource constrained settings and underserved communities.  

“This is truly an incredible learning opportunity,” says Grace of her experience as a PhD student. “I hope to continue to sponge in as much as I can from my course work, my peers, UW faculty and the wider UW community.”

By Amy Frances Goldstein