At the age of 12, Mehr Grewal has met her idol, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for girls’ education (see sidebar). She has received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for Washington state. She has been invited to meet with Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and she has been interviewed on the set at the King 5 studio.
When I spoke with Mehr recently, I discovered that she is a person with many talents and a strong belief that “you can make a difference at any age.” As part of her community service, she has given presentations at schools in Washington, Michigan and India. When not at school, she enjoys watching Harry Potter movies, playing tennis and badminton, and pursuing her artistic bent for sketching, painting and calligraphy. Given her interest in a medical career, I was delighted to hear that the UW School of Medicine will be her first choice. She says, “I want to stay local because this is my community, and I want to impact it positively.”
According to her mother, Dr. Anita Chopra, an internist at the UW Medicine Neighborhood Shoreline Clinic, Mehr’s community service is a response to her keen awareness of actual and potential problems. For instance, when Mehr learned about a classmate in elementary school whose family did not have health insurance, her concerns inspired Dr. Chopra to organize free health camps in Bothell and Renton (see sidebar).
Mehr began volunteering at these camps when she was 7 years old. Later, when she realized that many of these patients were receiving a diabetes diagnosis for the first time, she collaborated with UW Medicine nutritionist Whitney Thomas to develop materials about healthy diets and exercise, called “My Healthy Plate” and “InMotion.” Mehr says that the goal of this initiative is to empower people to improve their health through lifestyle changes.”
When Mehr became aware of a flu epidemic, she developed a campaign to promote hand hygiene as a do-it-yourself vaccine. For this “Clean Hands Save Lives” campaign, Mehr created an interactive presentation for school kids, ages 5-12, about the importance of hand hygiene and the different ways to treat bacterial and viral infections. Based on surveys before and after the presentation, she writes that her campaign identified significant knowledge gaps about microbial transmission and hand hygiene in elementary school children. She also found that a peer-led education intervention can be effective in bridging these knowledge gaps.
Last summer, while working with one of her mentors, an infectious disease doctor in Michigan, to develop a curriculum on antibiotic resistance for middle and high schools, Mehr learned about a measles outbreak in Detroit and was the lead author for a commentary about access to the measles vaccine that was published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. She is also a contributor to an article published in the American Journal of Infection Control on "Physician attitudes and knowledge regarding antibiotic use and resistance in ambulatory settings."
Mehr is now turning her attention to mental health issues affecting teenagers. This focus springs from her awareness of how peer pressure and social media are causing increased anxiety for her friends. She also draws on her firsthand and painful experience of being bullied by a classmate for three months.
In June, her mother organized a “Depression and Anxiety Awareness Forum” on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. In addition to talks by Drs. Jagoda Pasic and Ramanpreet Toor from the UW Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Mehr spoke about the anxiety that she sees in her peers and the resources that are available to help them.
Mehr believes that peer-led programs are essential for reaching teenagers. At Bellevue Youth Link — an organization that encourages young people to create and lead community projects — she has formed a mental health action team. Her goal is that the team will host a series of teen cafes for safe conversations about these sensitive topics at the Boys & Girls Clubs and Jubilee Reach in Bellevue. Mehr also hopes to work with the UW Medicine School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training (SMART) Center to add a school outreach component to this campaign.
I am inspired by Mehr’s work and will follow her future accomplishments with great interest. As a member of the UW Medicine’s extended family, she is a model for community service and demonstrates how each of us, in our own way, can have a profound impact through our mission to improve health for all people.
Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
CEO, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington