Global Health Narratives Interview Series: Meet Dr. Constantine E. Kanakis.

Constantine E. Kanakis, MSc, LS(ASCP)CM is a board certified Medical Laboratory Scientist and is a newly minted MD. Any pathology program director reading this should pay close attention, since he is currently completing the Pathology Match for July 2020 and you would be lucky to have him in your program. Constantine has done incredible work in the field of pathology already, and was recognized in the prestigious ASCP 40 Under Forty award program in 2017 and he was recognized as a Top Ten medical student with the ASCP Academic Achievement Award in the same year.It was his passion for working to better his community that earned him these, and I can only imagine what else he will do in his career. I came across his work through reading his ASCP Lablogatory blog contributions, to which he has contributed insightful and quality material for years. His work in global health particularly stands out as what he has been able to accomplish in such a short time and while in medical school is really spectacular. If you want to know how to get engaged in your community and make a tremendous impact in the world, read on, you will surely be inspired to do so after reading this!

Q: Can you tell me about your background and what led you into Pathology for your career choice?

A: I received my undergraduate and masters in Chicago studying molecular biology, political science, bioethics, and medical laboratory science. I’ve worked in various laboratory roles for the last ten years, mostly in blood bank and hematology. After some time, I decided to return to pursuing a more advanced career in medicine and go to medical school and was naturally drawn to pathology from having worked extensively in the lab.

Public health was always something I was interested in, but didn’t know how to get involved. This changed when I had an opportunity to take a service-learning elective course in medical school focused on community outreach. We were prompted to choose a project to focus on, and since Zika virus was such a heightened threat to the community of Sint Maarten in 2015-2016, as well as the region at-large, I decided to focus my efforts there. I organized an effort to reach out to the community and help educate them on Zika prevention/infection through speaking at town hall meetings, health drives, and by creating vector control projects in the field. Together with a team, we developed school-based task forces to educate children so they would bring the information home to their parents and siblings. This arm of the project was mirrored after the recycling initiative in the 90’s that was targeted at US school children to bring recycling programs into the home. Recycling started in schools and it was effective in changing the home culture. Our Zika education based program was so successful that the Sint Maarten Ministry of Health adopted it as an official outreach program as part of their Collective Prevention Services. And was even touted as a success by representatives at the 2016 Global Health Security Agenda session in Miami.

I also married this community outreach project to the Zika virus research that I was involved in with my medical school. We used commercially available antibody kits and I both wrote the SOPs and ran testing alongside other team members in the laboratory.

With my background in public health, research, and working in the laboratory as a technologist, Pathology is a career that will allow me to engage in all of these things. Pathology is a perfect career for focusing on global health due to its ability to intervene on behalf of the population in a data driven way. Rather than helping one person at a time, I can help entire demographics through epidemiologic based interventions. 

Constantine Kanakis (center right, first row) and the team in the fight against mosquito borne diseases.

Q: Why do you think medical students should get involved in global or public health?

A: Getting involved in solving the problems in your community enriches your education in a way that solely reading about issues cannot. When you are actively engaged in the solution, the problem becomes more than just something you are reading and learning about in the text. Not only does this enhance your education and understanding, but it also gives you the benefit of being part of your community in a meaningful way. There are so many preventable issues to focus on – in the US and abroad.

Q: How can someone get started in serving their community?

A: Start by looking around at your immediate surroundings and take an assessment of the issues affecting the community. Anyone can do this, whether you are a physician, scientist, or a community member. The first step is to collect data to define the issue and narrow your target. Next is to plan an intervention; start small and organize or join a group working on the issue and just get involved. You will be surprised at how quickly things can develop. And don’t be afraid of failure—taking setbacks are critical in a continuing process of reevaluating and readjusting your project!

Q: Now that you have finished with medical school, what is next for you and where do you see for your future?

A: In between residency program interviews this month, I will be flying to Sint Maarten to deliver a TEDx talk about the rapid evolution of medicine and how we can prepare for the changing landscape. [You can view the talk here: https://vimeo.com/365844585 (skip ahead to 5:00 to jump straight to Constantine’s presentation)].

Next I’m planning to present an abstract in the next Caribbean Center for Disaster Medicine conference. With hurricanes threatening the Caribbean islands and in particular Sint Maarten which was hit in 2016, there’s been a lot of energy centered around disaster preparedness. My focus is on making sure the planning efforts including blood bank and other lab services are ready in the case of a major disaster.

In the future, as a pathology resident and beyond, I want to continue to work in both my local US setting and abroad. In the US, there are many public health issues that need to be focused on. For example, there’s been a record resurgence in preventable infectious diseases due to the anti-vaccination movement. There are also people suffering from Hepatitis C related cirrhosis who aren’t aware that Hepatitis C is curable. There are many educational campaigns for issues like this that can change lives, and pathologists are the ones that can fulfill that role as health educators.

My wife is a RN, has a master’s of nursing science (MSN), is a certified nurse leader (CNL), and is finishing her Doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) in advanced public health with a focus on vulnerable populations and disaster planning, has been an excellent partner and resource for community outreach all along and we hope to focus on these issues throughout our careers. It’s exciting to think of all the possible ways we can help make our community better!

Constantine Kanakis delivering a recent TEDx talk.

-Dana Razzano, MD is a former Chief Resident in her fourth year in anatomic and clinical pathology at New York Medical College at Westchester Medical Center and will be starting her fellowship in Cytopathology at Yale University in 2020. She is passionate about global health and bringing pathology and laboratory medicine services to low and middle income countries. She was a top 5 honoree in ASCP’s Forty Under 40 in 2018 and was named to The Pathologist’s Power List of 2018 and 2019. Follow Dr. Razzano on twitter @Dr_DR_Cells.

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