Nicholas Comninellis, MD, MPH,

Nicholas Comninellis, MD, MPH, received the 2014 Gabriel Smilkstein Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Growth and Development of Family Medicine Education Throughout the World given by the Group on Global Health of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.  He received this award at the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine’s Annual Meeting on May 5, 2014.  This award is named in honor of Dr. Smilkstein, who was very active in the promotion of family medicine education world-wide.

Dr. Comninellis was nominated by Stephen C. Salanski, MD, for his work as President and Founder of the Institute for International Medicine (INMED).  Dr. Comninellis’ career certainly exemplifies the intent for the award – “to recognize achievements in and contributions to the development of Family Medicine education outside the United States and Canada over the course of the awardee’s career.”  He has demonstrated this both in his own personal service in the medical mission field, as well as in the ongoing educational opportunities he has established through INMED. 

Nicholas began his lifelong commitment to providing care for the poorest of the poor immediately after completing his Family Practice Residency training.  His first service was in China at the Shanghai Charity Hospital where he provided medical care to inner city Chinese citizens for a year.  Following that, he spent over two years in war-torn Angola in southern Africa.  The first year he worked out of the Kalukembe Hospital in southwestern Angola – a work which included frequent MASH-style triage of wounded soldiers and civilians.  The next year he moved to Huambo in Central Angola where he partnered with churches to provide mobile clinic services.  These clinics emphasized health education, vaccination, prenatal care, and treatment of the common diseases of poverty – malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, measles, and malnutrition.  By 1991 the worsening military conflict forced Nicholas and his family to evacuate from Angola. 

Upon returning to Kansas City, Nicholas began full time teaching in Family Medicine – initially at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Family Medicine Residency, then at the Trinity Hospital Family Medicine Residency (which later merged with another Residency program to form the Research Family Medicine Residency Program).  During this time he completed a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree, and he also became Board Certified in Preventive Medicine.  This allowed him to teach Public Health, in addition to full-scope Family Medicine – including Obstetrics.

During this time, and continuing through to today, Nicholas has served multiple one month medical assignments in a variety of locations – including Honduras, Haiti, Zimbabwe, China, and again annually for the past few years in Angola.  He has authored several books regarding life choices for teenagers; as well as a curriculum for International Medicine and another curriculum for Community Medicine.  He has also developed several online courses regarding International Public Health, Diseases of Poverty, Cross-Cultural Competency, and Low-Resource HIV Medicine.

Nicholas’ greatest contribution to Family Medicine education throughout the world began in 2004 when he left full time faculty work to found the Institute for International Medicine (INMED) – a nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to equip healthcare professionals to serve the most forgotten people on earth by providing primary healthcare services.  Since 2004, INMED has developed medical mission training sites with on-site faculty in twenty-five developing nations.  These include sites in Ghana, Honduras, China, Angola, Jordan, Romania, Cameroon, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Zambia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, India, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Kenya, and Haiti.  Physicians who live full time on site in these locations serve as Faculty for Medical Students and Residents who complete one to two month rotations in these sites.  Since 2004, some 411 Residents and Medical students have participated in these rotations, earning a Diploma in International Medicine – including Residents from my Program.  Every one of these Residents speaks of their rotations as high quality, well organized, life changing experiences.

INMED has hosted an annual Exploring Medical Missions Conference for the past eight years.  This conference has grown from 200 attendees and 12 exhibitors at the first event in 2006 to 523 attendees and 35 exhibitors in 2013.  The attendees come from all over the US and Canada, and include multiple healthcare disciplines – physicians, nurses, allied health professionals – both in practice and still in training.  INMED also hosts an annual Cross-Cultural Competency in Healthcare Symposium – with 210 participants in 2013.  I have personally attended several of these symposia and have been impressed with not only the large number of attendees – but also the high quality of the speakers and the enthusiasm generated in the participants. 

INMED has developed several other educational opportunities.  These include online International Medicine Certificate and Diploma Programs (which have been completed by 523 participants) and online International Public Health Certificate and Diploma Programs (which 289 participants have completed).  Other new INMED course offerings include Ultrasound for Low-Resource Healthcare and Helping Babies Breathe (neonatal resuscitation).

Provided by Stephen C. Salanski, MD, Program Director, Research Family Medicine Residency Program