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Global Health

(From left) Rohan Khazanchi, Olivia Sonderman and Laura Newton, medical students at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, form the Nebraska Goes Global team, which is one of the 10 teams competing in the final round of the American Medical Association’s Global Health Challenge.

As Columbus native Olivia Sonderman thinks back on her days at Scotus Central Catholic High School, she remembers the joy of sitting through numerous physics and physiology courses which played a role in propelling her into the medical field.

As a result, Sonderman is currently a third-year medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a finalist in the American Medical Association’s Global Health Challenge.

“…They have been doing it for the past several years to support students and to give students the opportunity to express why they’re interested in global health and kind of have fun doing that,” Sonderman said.

First-time participant Sonderman teamed up with two other UNMC students, Rohan Khazanchi and Laura Newton. Khazanchi, an Omaha native, recently completed his first year at UNMC and is currently conducting research on social determinants of HIV treatment outcomes.

Newton, a Plattsmouth native and third-year UNMC student, is researching the social determinants of health.

The trio joined forces after learning each other’s similar interests and visions regarding global health.

The American Medical Association (AMA), in collaboration with the AMA Insurance Agency, conducts the Global Health Challenge annually, which is open to teams of three to five physicians-in-training and medical students nationwide competing for the chance to travel on a mission trip to places like Ecuador, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic with Timmy Global Health, a nonprofit organization expanding access to healthcare while empowering students to take on global health challenges.

During the initial stages of the competition, each team submitted a 500-word essay in May illustrating how their understanding of social determinants inspired them to learn and grow, Sonderman said.

Following the written portion of the contest, 10 teams were selected as finalists, including the UNMC team, “Nebraska Goes Global.” The contest gathered numerous students nationwide, from places including: the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine in Pennsylvania, Wright State University in Ohio and the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

Nebraska Goes Global team members in their essay showcased goals of measuring the impact and effectiveness of service trips, medical missions and other philanthropies using effective altruism, a movement which uses data to measure the outcomes of those efforts.

“Especially in medicine, we use evidence to take care of our patients and decide what treatments are best and to make diagnoses, but oftentimes, when we are giving back to the community or participating in any philanthropic activities, we don’t necessarily look at the outcomes of what we are doing,” Sonderman said.

Sonderman said she hopes to utilize the same evidence-based methods widely used in the medical field to help improve services in communities worldwide, noting the prize trip will allow her team to learn from how the organization Timmy Global Health serves its patients.

The teams have until July 30 to gather votes on the videos they’ve submitted for the final round, which further illustrates each team's visions and interests in global health. The top-five videos garnering the most votes will proceed to a panel of judges, who will ultimately make the decision based on the team’s video and essay contents.

“So the votes do matter to get you to past that hurdle,” Sonderman said.

Those wanting to learn more about the teams competing in the Global Health Challenge and to cast their votes are encouraged to visit

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at

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