Expanding Nephrology Horizons: ASN-SLANH Mini-Fellowship

The American Society of Nephrology (ASN) and the Sociedad Latino-Americana de Nefrología é Hipertension (SLANH) created the ASN-SLANH Mini-Fellowship in 2003. The fellowship program provides the opportunity for 10 Latin American nephrologists to observe a North American nephrology program for three weeks and then attend Renal Week as a guest of ASN.

A new group of fellows is chosen by SLANH each year, and ASN arranges the mini-fellowships at various institutions around the country. In 2008, the fellows came from Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, and observed programs in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. One such fellow was Flávio Ribeiro Dantas de Aguiar, MD.

Aguiar was born on June 14, 1978, in Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte in northeastern Brazil. His mother and father are professors at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. His sister is a nurse and his brother, an architect.

Aguiar recalls that as a child, he always wanted to become a doctor. When he was in kindergarten, Aguiar refused to dress as a soldier for the Independence Day parade, which celebrates Brazil’s independence from Portugal on September 7 each year. Instead, he dressed in white clothes and went as a doctor.

His other inspirations for becoming the first doctor in his family included a love of biology and his family’s devotion to Catholicism, both of which led him to obtain a medical degree in 2003. As he said, “I decided that my future profession had something [to do] with biology and helping people!”

He is equally enthusiastic about his motivations to become a nephrologist: “During my residency in internal medicine, I discovered how fascinating this specialty is. We work a lot, it is true. And we have a lot to do [in the way of] prevention, treatment and follow-up—it is complete! I could interact with a lot of … patients, from child[ren] to old people, men and women, from very sick to better ones. That is amazing!” Aguiar says he is proud of the quality of care Brazil provides to its citizens with kidney disease.

After completing his residency in Natal, Aguiar went to São José do Rio Preto Medical School in São Paulo for his nephrology fellowship. At the time, Emmanuel Burdmann, MD, was the president of SLANH and mentioned the ASN-SLANH Mini-Fellowship to Aguiar during his initial interview. Aguiar’s family frequently hosted foreign medical students. In 2001, he participated in a one-month emergency medicine internship in Ferrara, Italy, promoted by the International Federation of Medical Students Association, and he enjoyed the intercultural experiences. In addition, almost all of his professors in Brazil had studied abroad. So, in 2008, during the second year of his fellowship, Aguiar applied to come to the United States through SLANH.

ASN placed Aguiar at Temple University in Philadelphia, under the guidance of program director Patricio Silva, MD. Aguiar says highlights of his time at Temple included “the acute care service [allowing me to] see continuous dialysis, waters treatment in the dialysis unit, the grand rounds…, the conferences, and the organization of the outpatient dialysis unit.” While in Philadelphia, Aguiar also experienced an American pastime firsthand when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series and had a parade through the city.

The ASN-SLANH Mini-Fellowship has been a rewarding program for everyone involved, from the participants themselves to the host program directors to Tomas Berl, MD, and Bill Mitch, MD—ASN past presidents who have guided the program—to ASN staff who interact with the eager participants and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. It is also a useful mechanism for facilitating connections between Latin American and North American nephrologists.

Says Aguiar: “Even though the time is short, I am convinced that such a mini-fellowship will have an impact on my career, allowing me to gain valuable experience. It will reinforce and increase my knowledge and open my mind with new advances from what I saw in the Temple nephrology center. I will be able to observe the differences in health-care systems and compare [them]. This could have applications for Brazil in the future. I gained greater capabilities as a physician, improved my English, and met new nephrology colleagues who may help me in my work, at home, by sharing medical opinions and insights.”