Volunteer Spotlight: Nancy Sohler

January 7, 2021

The World Health Organization identifies research, data, and evaluation as components of a building block for a successful and sustainable health system. Konbit Sante focuses on strengthening all of the WHO building blocks in our work in Northern Haiti. Since 2018, we have worked with Justinien University Hospital (JUH) and the Haiti Medical Education (HME) Project to develop a research course at JUH that identifies and explores ways to improve patient care while helping residents fulfill their graduation requirements.

Epidemiologist and health services researcher Dr. Nancy Sohler, director of research education with HME and faculty at the City College of New York (CCNY), has played an essential role in developing and teaching the program alongside Konbit Sante’s leadership staff.

“It’s an honor for me to be able to collaborate with Konbit Sante and work for HME, and especially to work with Justinien University Hospital,” she said. “It has been exciting to work with residents who are so welcoming to thinking about research and quality improvement.”

Dr. Sohler was born in California and grew up in Andover, Massachusetts. Her father was an electrical engineer, and her mother was a second-grade school teacher. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Friends World College, but decided to embark on a career in epidemiology after taking a course on the subject while pursuing a master’s degree in sociomedical sciences at Columbia University. Noted epidemiologist and psychiatrist Dr. Ezra Susser, co-founder of the Global Mental Health Program at Columbia, encouraged her to pursue her Ph.D. in psychiatric epidemiology.

Dr. Sohler completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research at Rutgers University, and was recruited by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center to serve as an assistant professor before accepting her current position at CCNY, where she teaches medical students and conducts research to explore strategies to improve access to healthcare for people living with HIV and opioid addiction.

In 2014, Dr. Sohler was recruited by HME to launch its first medical research education course in Haiti as part of her CCNY sabbatical project. The purpose of the course, then and now, is to provide curricula for healthcare professionals and educators in order to teach research methods and gather data that will inform quality improvement projects in healthcare settings. In 2018, Konbit Sante’s then-executive director, Nate Nickerson, requested that she and HME help launch a program at JUH in 2018.

For the duration of the course, residents receive training on how to conduct research from A to Z—everything from identifying a topic and getting approval from an institutional review board to analyzing literature, collecting data, and presenting research findings. The hope is that the research program will not only enhance the residents to become skilled healthcare providers, but that the collected data will strengthen capacity for health at JUH and throughout Haiti.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has put a hold on the resident research program at JUH, Dr. Sohler and HME are eager to continue with the collaboration with Konbit Sante and JUH soon.

“Residents all over—not just in Haiti, but in the U.S. and elsewhere—need to understand and conduct research in order to be able to engage in evidence-based medicine,” said Dr. Sohler. “They need to know where data comes from, they have to be able to understand it, and they have to be able to use the most current knowledge in their practice of medicine.”

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