Christopher Magoon, a student at Perelman Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, will be taking a step away from the chaos of being a medical student to conduct research with a team of ophthalmologists in China.
Magoon, a 2007 Hoover High School graduate, received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to China in Public Health from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Magoon will be conducting research at Capital Medical University in Beijing.
The Fulbright program operates in 160 countries with the goal of building lasting connections between U.S. citizens and individuals from other countries. Fulbright recipients are chosen based on their professional and academic achievements. Volunteer, service and leadership potential in their respective fields are also taken into account.
The research will focus on preventative ophthalmology as a segment of a larger project to alleviate the burden of global blindness.
"Impactful medical research takes many years, and it’s a team effort," Magoon said. "I’ll be joining a team who’s doing various projects. One of the aspects that I’m excited about is to sort of see what the whole team is doing."
Magoon will travel to China in mid-August and stay for 14 months. The first four months of his study abroad will include language training where Magoon will teach English as a second language.
While in China, Magoon plans to study myopia, or nearsightedness. Magoon said myopia has increased in China with 90 percent of the population having it. In the 1960s, only 10 to 20 percent of the population had myopia.
"When you think about it on the surface, it seems like no big deal (because) people can get glasses," Magoon said. "Now when you look at the global burden of what is causing people to go blind, myopia is actually the second leading cause worldwide."
In Chinese classrooms, Magoon said eye exercises are practiced at the beginning of the day to promote awareness of eye protection. According to a study called "Chinese Eye Exercises and Myopia Development in School Age Children," the Chinese government implemented these eye exercises in 1963.
Magoon, along with some of his research partners, plans to hold a study with individuals who will practice the eye exercises compared to a control group who does not do the eye exercises in order to see if the exercises help reduce myopia.
The enlargement of the eye causes myopia. Though this can be easy to correct, Magoon said, like in America’s healthcare system, many Chinese citizens slip through the cracks and cannot afford to see an ophthalmologist.
"When there’s a large degree of myopia, people can have structural problems with their eyes where not only do they need glasses but the geometry of the eye is impacted in such a way that they’re more likely to get other retinal problems," Magoon said.
Myopia has become more of a priority in recent years due to the dramatic increase in the percentage of the population affected by it. Left untreated, myopia can lead to a variety of visual problems including.
"Myopia, which is nearsightedness, is a bigger problem than it might sound like, and that is because it’s really increasing so that the majority of people in East Asia now have myopia, and that can lead to problems," Magoon said. "We want to find a way to prevent the progression of myopia. Currently there are no good ways to prevent it."
Magoon has one year left of training in medical school and will be applying for residency programs soon. Though he has not chosen a specialty, he is exploring ophthalmology because of his interest in the human eye.
"The eye is beautiful. It is a beautiful thing to look at," Magoon said. "It’s just so pretty up close. You get to look at the eye under a microscope all day, and it’s satisfying to look at."
Ophthalmology differs from other medical fields because it focuses more on the quality of human life rather than the duration of human life. Medicine is often practiced to save the lives or people or further their life expectancy. Ophthalmology, however, focuses on the quality of life because most eye illnesses are not life threatening.
"I think a lot of times there’s a culture of keeping people alive without necessarily focusing on their quality of life," Magoon said. "Also, being interested in global and public health, ophthalmology lends itself well to global and public health interventions. The most common eye problems are often reversible or preventable, and they don’t require huge surgeries."
Magoon previously traveled to China after completing his undergraduate at Yale University in 2011. He graduated with a history degree before changing his career path toward medicine and public health. Magoon was able to live in China for a year and a half thanks to the Luce Scholars Program. While in China, Magoon taught in rural Chinese schools.
Magoon’s wife, Alison, will be traveling to China with him to teach in Chinese classrooms. The two recently married May 20 and met in China during Magoon’s first study abroad trip.
The most valuable part of his experience in China was getting to immerse himself in a new culture and learn the language Mandarin. Magoon studied Mandarin between 8 to 10 hours a day and said he still struggles to read a Chinese newspaper due to the complexity of the language.
"Learning Mandarin is really satisfying," Magoon said. "It’s an amazing language, and it opens so many door to be able to speak Mandarin. One fifth of humans on the planet are Chinese, and so being able to speak Mandarin and having an introduction to the culture has been an amazing gift to me. I look forward to furthering that knowledge there."
Magoon plans to use his experiences in China through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to focus on global health and implement it in his future career in public health and medicine.
"I think that there’s a lot that other systems can learn from the American system, but there’s also a lot of the American system can learn," Magoon said. "I think that becoming an expert in the systems that apply medicine as well as medicine itself will be valuable. That’s the space I want to occupy, but not sure what do with it."
Magoon will be documenting his journey along the way. To stay up-to-date, follow Magoon on twitter, @cpmagoon or visit his website www.christophermagoon.com.