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Medical mission trips a driving force for ’07 grad

Elizabeth Ansert ’07, in the middle/back row, has taken two medical mission trips as a podiatric medicine student and is planning two more.

Elizabeth Ansert ’07 is in her last semester at the Barry University School of Podiatric Medicine in Miami Shores, Fla., but she already has experience providing medical care to those who need it most. She has participated in two medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic, and she is planning two upcoming trips, one to Guyana in South America and one to Uganda in Africa. To help others experience serving the most needy on medical mission trips, she was co-founder of an annual fundraiser that offers scholarships to college students wanting to go. Her efforts earned her the Student Medical Missionary of the Year award from Jose’s Hands, a nonprofit organization that introduces first-year medical school students to medical mission trips. 

Ansert went on her first medical mission trip as a med school freshman. Her mother, a nurse, had always talked about going on one but had never gone herself. So when Ansert got an email promoting an upcoming trip, she knew she had to go. She joined five of her classmates and helped provide general medical care to those in need in the Dominican Republic and found inspiration to return again, the second time as a team leader.

“It was interesting seeing the way people were living and the way they were so grateful for just basic medical care,” she said. “It was such a spiritual and emotional experience for me that I found this passion for, so it’s something I try to do once a year, and I also want other people to experience it.”

During her sophomore year at Barry, she and two classmates founded Party for a Cause, which raises money to cover some of the expenses for students’ medical mission trips. The first year, the event raised about $1,500. Last year, the event raised $5,000 and helped 13 students. This year, the event raised more than $6,000 and should help nearly 20 students.

Initially, the money received helped Barry students with medical mission trip expenses, but Ansert has been helping develop the Podiatry Medical Missions Association to promote the scholarship to podiatric medical students around the country.

For her upcoming medical mission trips, Ansert wanted to be part of a podiatric care team. So she found a way to help plan them by serving as an executive board member of the nonprofit organization Podiatry Overseas. She is helping to organize trips to Guyana and Uganda. Planning such trips includes overcoming several challenges, including gaining permission from the destination country and the U.S. government, obtaining travel visas, and getting the necessary medical supplies and equipment to the site. If the trip to Guyana is approved, the medical mission team primarily will provide podiatric surgery during its late April trip. For the trip to Uganda in June, Ansert will lead the medical mission’s podiatry clinic for one of the two weeks.

She also will help prepare those going on their first medical mission trip to help them understand the dual aspects of serving others in need and providing medical care. Training others is just as rewarding as participating in the trip itself, Ansert said. She discovered her love of teaching while serving as a teaching assistant as she pursued her master’s degree at IU. At Barry, she is a teaching assistant once again and said she likes to “see people learn the skills sets they need,” especially those preparing for medical mission trips.

Ansert said she is looking forward to the podiatry-focused trips and anticipates the group will provide treatment for everything from congenital deformities to deformities caused by past trauma. 

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “This is going to be the first time that there is a specific podiatric clinic, and a specific place for podiatry, so the one with surgery is even more exciting because we’re getting to make these huge, life-changing impacts on these patients that typically their country may or might not have the services or podiatry in that country, or there might not be the equipment or the funding to get the services they need.”

This final semester certainly is a busy one for Ansert, as she completes her schooling, plans two medical mission trips, and awaits the results of her residency match in mid-March. She has applied in various states, including Colorado, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Massachusetts. She will complete three years of residency followed by a one- or two-year fellowship.

Ansert said it’s part of her personality to stay busy.

“I’m naturally a passionate person, so when I find something I like, I run with it,” she said “It’s something my parents instilled in me. They always emphasized working hard and doing something that you love. Between that and having a type A personality, if it’s something I like, I just go for it.”

That approach to life is how Ansert came to study podiatry. She started out as a biology major with a minor in chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington. In 2010, she entered the police academy and joined the IU Police Department, which prompted her to add the majors psychology and criminal justice. After earning her bachelor’s degree in three majors in 2012, she earned her master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

In 2014, she returned to New Albany but found few positions available in forensic psychology. She spent a year and a half as a psychological therapist but found it unrewarding. Ansert began to consider medical school and shadowed physicians in different specialties, including a distant relative who is a local podiatrist. When she saw his work, she was immediately intrigued.

“You’re getting to work with your hands, you’re getting to bounce around and do different things, so I thought this is what I might want to do,” she said.

She particularly liked podiatric medicine’s versatility. Unlike most medical specialties, podiatric medicine is not focused on a specific system of the body. It offers a range of care from cardiovascular and neurological to dermatologic and muscular care within the lower extremities of the body. The field also has its own specialties, and Ansert said she is most interested in wound care and forensic podiatry, a subspecialty she discovered her sophomore year. She became so fascinated with it that she started a forensic podiatry club.

Her interest in forensic podiatry no doubt springs from her former interest in police work, and ties all of her college degrees together. With several years of training still ahead, Ansert is leaving her options open. But whatever focus she ultimately chooses, she will continue to help others, whether it’s providing podiatric care in a U.S. medical practice or overseas on a medical mission trip.

“I got that from my family,” she said. “They taught me if you can help somebody, you should do it. My grandparents, parents, they taught me that you always help people whenever you can.”

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