July 19, 2017

Elms College post-baccalaureate student nabs internship with NIH

Staff report

(IObserve photo/courtesy of Elms College)

CHICOPEE – Ibrahim Kargbo, a post-baccalaureate pre-med student at the College of Our Lady of the Elms, has earned a prestigious summer internship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.

Kargbo will work with scientists in the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). “This is a group I wanted to work with,” he said. “Specifically, I’ll be working on sickle cell anemia, which is a genetic blood disease that primarily affects African Americans and other minority populations.”

He had followed the work of this group at NHLBI for a while and specifically contacted them about internship opportunities because of the significance of their research. “What they’re doing is translational research, where they’re actually trying to find a cure for the disease,” he said.

Kargbo has friends with sickle cell, and has seen firsthand how debilitating it can be. “It’s very intense pain. Women who have sickle cell who have had children and gone through the labor process say the pain of sickle cell is worse than labor pain,” he said.

He is excited to put what he’s learned in the classroom into practice in the lab.

“I can really see that what we’re learning in class is actually applicable in the real world,” he said. “It puts an even higher level of importance to a lot of the material we’re learning in class, because at the end of the day, if you choose to continue in this field, you’re going to have to apply a lot of these basic concepts we’re learning to try to make the world a better place.”

A native of Sierra Leone, Kargbo came to the U.S. when he was 5 years old. He attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and graduated in 2010 with a degree in international health and policy. The Alexandria, Va., resident will complete his post-baccalaureate certificate in 2018.

“I’m the typical ‘first in the family to do X,’ ” Kargbo said of attending college. His father, a grocery store clerk, wasn’t educated in the U.S. but has put Kargbo and three of his brothers through college; his youngest brother is in middle school.

Once he decided on a career in medicine, either emergency or clinical research, Kargbo sought a post-bac program to complete the classes he needed to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). He came to Chicopee from a large school — George Mason has more than 34,000 students — and found that he appreciated the small size of Elms and the opportunities it gives students to work closely with faculty and classmates.

The post-baccalaureate pre-medical certificate program at Elms enrolls 20-30 students each year who have earned a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree from an accredited college or university. The post-bac program serves two populations of students: those who wish to improve their GPAs and prepare for standardized tests, and those who need to take prerequisite coursework for the first time in preparation for standardized tests and application to medical and other professional health programs (dental, physician assistant, pharmacy, optometry, veterinary, occupational or physical therapy, and more).

Students who have already taken premedical prerequisite courses in chemistry can usually earn their certificates in one academic year, or two semesters. Those who have not taken prerequisites in chemistry or sufficient biology courses can usually finish the program in two academic years, or four semesters.