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Amy Lehman '91 featured in GirlTech Magazine

Amy Lehman '91 featured in GirlTech Magazine

Amy Lehman '91 was recently interviewed by fifth-former Lauren Hsu for the December issue of GirlTech, a Choate Rosemary Hall student-run publication dedicated to telling stories for and about women in STEM industries.

Lauren ’24 is passionate about sharing the stories of women who have dedicated their time and energy to changing the world through science and technology. She was initially interested in speaking to Amy because her work on the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic combines medicine, technology, and research.

Lauren notes that speaking with Amy has had a lasting effect on the way she looks at learning. "Something Dr. Lehman told me that I think about often is the importance of lifelong learning in many different disciplines," Lauren said. "Solving complex problems requires knowledge from many fields and it's important to be aware of what we don't know when trying to tackle these issues." We’re pleased to share the article with you below.

“Healthcare on the Water” from GirlTech, December 2022. Written by Lauren Hsu '24.

Lake Tanganyika is one of Africa’s oldest lakes and the longest freshwater lake in the world. Bordered by Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Zambia, it is home to millions of people as well as rich in natural resources and biodiversity. In this strategic location, Dr. Amy Lehman ’91 founded the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic (LTFHC) in 2009. The organization provides health care and delivers medical supplies by boat, supports and trains local health centers, gathers data, builds communication between the local government and other organizations, and raises awareness of the significance of the Lake Tanganyika Basin.

From a young age, Dr. Lehman had an interest in medicine. After suffering from a serious illness as a child, she was dissatisfied with the way she was treated as a patient. While at Choate, she gravitated towards foreign languages, literature, and social sciences. After graduating, Dr. Lehman attended the University of Chicago, where she realized her interest in medicine and science, saying, “The best thing that I could do was to become a medical doctor that I thought patients deserve to have, that I could treat my patients in the way that I thought they ought to be treated, instead of the way I had been treated.”

Dr. Lehman went on to receive an MBA and MD from the University of Chicago, with hopes of becoming a thoracic surgeon. Afterwards, she trained in General Surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center and was also a senior fellow at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, a non-profit in Chicago.

Dr. Lehman’s career took a turn after her right arm was injured by a surgery, making a path in surgical medicine less feasible. Around the same time, in 2006, Dr. Lehman visited the Lake Tanganyika area, where she saw that a large lakeside population was isolated from the rest of the world. Amongst other problems, the area had poor roads, supply chain issues, and inadequate public health. With the hope of improving basic healthcare and infrastructure for these communities that were only accessible by boat, Dr. Lehman came up with the idea of LTFHC. Dr. Lehman’s injury compounded her drive to start a hospital on water, leading to the birth of the health clinic after three years of planning.

LTFHC, which began with delivering medical supplies by boat and transporting people to lakeside health centers, continues to expand its programs. Recently, the organization finished developing an app called Iroko Health. The app records community-level health data in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where physical health records are easily lost in the turmoil of insecurity and weak infrastructure, but many health workers have limited experience with laptops and touchscreens. Iroko, which was created with feedback from health care workers on the ground, has the potential to be rolled out across the country and benefit millions.

Since 2016, LTFHC has been collecting data in areas of South Kivu, a province of the DRC located on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. In early 2022, the organization recorded extensive data on households, wild fisheries, water quality, mosquitoes, and conducted interviews with local chiefs and fishers. The research will inform further action around malaria (the number one cause of death in the area) as well as around fisheries and the natural environment, which are important sources of food and income for the community. The data from South Kivu has been used in collaboration with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business since 2018. Operations management researchers and LTFHC are developing a supply chain model to distribute spatial mosquito repellent to households.

Combining their own substantial knowledge and connections in the area with Booth’s help in examining the supply chain, LTFHC hopes to utilize local workers and businesses to deliver important products, such as spatial mosquito repellant, to those in need.

Tackling the multidimensional issues the way LTFHC does requires knowledge across many disciplines. Dr. Lehman explained, “Something that’s really important about attacking problems is knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know, as well as having a certain amount of humility about knowing what you don’t know about, and seeking out that information and seeking out people with expertise in these other areas.” She further emphasized the need for multidisciplinary learning, saying, “When one looks at complex problems in the world, there isn’t a magic solution that usually exists only in one field … to be a truly responsible participatory member of society, I think we all need to have a certain baseline across multiple disciplines.”

Dr. Lehman said that although her work is hard, it is never boring, and she enjoys the challenge. She reflected, “I get to immerse myself in fascinating and also really consequential problems. I’m trying to contribute in a positive way.”