Rolling paint onto a bare cement wall, I stop to look around the empty room and close my eyes. A vision fills my mind and the space comes alive with voices of medical personnel. A patient lies on the operating table, his vital signs displayed by screens and monitors. I watch as a life is being saved in this room. As I step back into reality, into the smells of paint and sweat, I am proud of the small part I am playing in creating what will become a busy medical clinic in impoverished, rural Dominican Republic. I feel an overwhelming sense of purpose and foresight that one day I will return to this building, not as a volunteer college student, but as a volunteer physician, to help and serve this community of Haitian refugees. Now, six years since this initial trip to the Dominican Republic, I look back on my life experiences and see how they have given me the skills and confidence to pursue a life of learning and service to the underserved as a physician.
Fast Forward three years and I am posing for a picture with a man wearing feminine looking eye glasses, both of us grinning ear to ear. Only half an hour earlier I had seen this man hesitantly walking around our temporary vision and dental clinic. Upon noticing his need for help, I immediately walked over to greet him. We were just starting to close down the clinic for the day, but after discovering he had come straight from work in hope of a new pair of glasses, I led him through the sequence of steps to determine his prescription and fit him with a new pair of donated glasses, even if they had a slight feminine touch. It was in Mexico, that I felt the deep reward and satisfaction of giving new life to someone through medical treatment. We worked hard as a team, seeing over 500 patients in 5 days. I developed a sincere compassion for the people I met that was communicated not necessarily through my limited use of the Spanish language, but more visibly through undivided care and attention for the individual. The ability to serve and meet immediate needs of such worthy, hard working people was gratifying and rewarding. Through simple vision and dental services we helped instill a new confidence and hope within an oppressed and impoverished community.
Fast forward three more years, and I am huddled with the audience under the mango tree, out of the intense sun, watching a story unfold. A story that highlights a struggle typical to the Ugandan household; whether to eat the food they grow, or sell it for a profit. In the stage version, a husband greedily sells the food and possessions for money to spend on a life of indulgence, at the sake of depriving his family of proper nutrition. What amazes me is that this sensitive cultural problem is being confronted and presented by teenagers. During my public health internship, I learned that there is much more to working in global health than the satisfaction that comes with meeting an individual's immediate needs. In the context of a village, the health problems are not solved by the treatment of individuals, but by the empowerment of a community through preventative education and improved access to resources. As we worked together to find sustainable solutions, we faced the challenges of inadequate health infrastructure, lack of available medications, and cultural differences. By the end of the summer we had trained 20 leaders within the community to rise up and lead the village in the areas of malaria, HIV, sanitation, family planning and safe water. Our most effective work was in partnership with the local people because it centered on inspiring behavior change by addressing cultural norms and traditions that outsiders themselves are unable to address alone.
In all of my travels, I saw how disease and poor healthcare were obstacles that families did not have the power to overcome. People would constantly ask me to help diagnose and treat sick family members because of my white skin and relative wealth, to them the equivalency of holding a medical degree. I craved the skills and knowledge to be able to understand more entirely the causes of disease and health problems in order to more effectively treat and help create sustainable solutions. My desire and love of learning is an important factor in my decision to pursue medicine. I have found that for work to be fulfilling and engaging, it must challenge my intellectual abilities and skills. My work so far has been limited to preventative education and training, but I've seen that to be effective, prevention must go hand-in-hand with treatment. The study of medicine would greatly enhance my ability to serve and help create sustainable health systems in underdeveloped communities.
It has been six years since my initial exposure to the developing world and my desire to serve has not faded, but has been strengthened by seeing first-hand the health challenges much of our world face every day. I want to have the training and education that will empower me to help bring hope and resources to these disadvantaged communities. My travels have shown me that people are the same all over the world. They desire to live long healthy lives in order to care for those they love. I want to be a blessing to those who are lacking the hope for a healthy family and future.