Q&A with Kayla Holland

Kayla Holland is a 2019 alumna of the Eck Institute for Global Health (EIGH)'s Master of Science in Global Health program. In this spotlight, she discusses how she originally became interested in global health, her transformative experience completing her capstone research project, and her future plans to subspecialize in palliative care. She also has a BS in Biology and a BA in Spanish Language and Culture from Simpson University and is completing her DO from Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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Q. Why did you choose the Eck Institute of Global Health?

A. When seeking out graduate programs for global health, Notre Dame stood out to me as a program that provided 1:1 mentorship for students completing their capstone research projects. I also was drawn to the humility with which Notre Dame went about its curriculum, ensuring that students understood the “heart” of global health.  

Q. Tell us about when you first became interested in global health.

A. I attended a Christian undergraduate university in California. There, I became highly involved with short-term missions. While I loved the intention, passion, and objectives being sought, I realized how much harm there was in missions being done poorly. During this time I grew into knowing that I wanted to pursue the passion of missions with the skill of medicine, but felt very strongly that I would only be as good of a global servant as I was aware of my place as a global citizen. When I learned that global health focuses on achieving health equity for all peoples worldwide, and touts autonomy and global responsibility—I was hooked. 

Q. What are you doing now professionally/academically?

A. I am currently wrapping up my first year of medical school at LMU-DCOM in Harrogate, TN. 

Q. What is your most memorable experience at Notre Dame and why?

A. When I was completing my Master of Science in Global Health, I completed my capstone research in The Gambia under Professor Sarah Bosha. I performed a qualitative study working with survivors of a false HIV cure. The whole experience of research design and working with international partners was incredibly stretching and transformative, but the actual process of listening to, recording, and being trusted with the stories my research participants shared with me, changed me in an unmatched way. I will never forget the sweet moments of sitting with my research participants and witnessing their bravery and vulnerability as tears streamed down their faces and they shared how living with HIV has affected their families. In American medicine, we often take down health narratives frivolously, but I now get to think of my Gambian friends when recording these stories. There is power in story.  (Learn more about Kayla's capstone research project here.)

Q. How did your time with the Eck Institute for Global Health and Master of Science in Global Health program change you or your perspective?

A. My time in the MSGH program at the EIGH marked me forever. My worldview was profoundly expanded and I better learned to walk in my role as a global citizen. I came to terms with the power of story as a research and advocacy tool and became a MUCH better listener. The MSGH program taught me to see faces—to see patients as people rather than their illnesses. At ND, I learned that anybody can look for disease, but the principles of global health choose to seek out the Health. I learned how to identify holes in structures and systems that need to be fortified in order to be more equitable, and more importantly, I was taught how to permanently maintain the perspective of a learner. I give full credit to the EIGH's Master of Science in Global Health program for teaching me how to lean in and truly listen. 

Q. Do you have any plans for the future? If so, what are they?

A. In 2024, I will graduate with my medical degree and continue on to residency. Owing my passion to the principles of global health, I plan to subspecialize in palliative care. This branch of medicine focuses on helping patients with chronic diseases find a sustainable quality of life throughout the course of their illness and into the end-of-life stages. It seeks to help patients achieve wholeness as we live with the imminence of death. Like global health, palliative care believes in total suffering, the Right to Health, and living into the highest standard of health for all people. Eventually, I dream of working with international partners to enhance access to hospice and palliative care services globally. To me, this is global health. 

Q. Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself, or something you enjoy doing in your free time?

A. When I am not studying, 90% of the time I can be found backpacking…well hopefully not found since I seek solitude in the mountains. Last year my critter count included 9 bears, 6 moose, 14 pika, 11 bald eagles, and 2 beavers.