So a couple weeks ago I decided to apply for a student-run non-profit group on campus called GlobeMed. GlobeMed was founded only a few years ago but now has something like 46 chapters across the country and seems to be growing really fast. The idea of the organization is to forge long-term partnerships with local grassroots clinics in developing countries and help them succeed. As opposed to most other health related student groups at UT, what I like about GlobeMed is this focus on the long term impact.
Two summers ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Western Nicaragua on a traditional premed trip. The experience was life-changing for me, and I hoped that what we did as students on the trip was life changing for some of the patients. I came back to Texas aglow with a passion to keep improving global health and sparked with a desire to pursue a career in medicine.
Jump ahead one year and most of the initial excitement had worn off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never forget what I saw in the second poorest country in our hemisphere. I met an older man with toilet paper in his shoes because he was too poor to afford socks. Marina Cortez, a 68 year old woman, had been hit by a car several months previously and on top of her improperly healed broken bones, appeared to be in the late stages of metastasized breast cancer. She hadn’t seen a doctor for any of this before we came. Half the kids we saw were anemic. Half the kids we saw had some sort of intestinal parasite. I could write pages about all the grotesquely unfair maladies these wonderful people were having to suffer through. Injuries and disease that we would never imagine in the states were swept under the rug as normal in Central America. No, I will not ever forget my trip to Nicaragua.
The part that had been bothering me was my role in the situation. Sure, I spent two weeks of my life doing my best to help treat these patients, and probably even made a difference for a few of them. Unfortunately, these problems aren’t going away as a result of short-term medical trips like ours. No, the problems lie deeper. Rooted in some of the deepest trenches of poverty I could imagine, the people of Nicaragua are going to keep facing nutritional deficits leading to anemia. With a dire need for clean water, children are going to continue to suffer from parasitic infections. Without proper education, young teenage girls are going to continue to get pregnant and become infected with myriad sexually transmitted diseases. Short-term trips, like the one I participated in, serve great intentions, but will not do much to halt the spread of disease, to help bring people out of the cycle of poverty, or to improve the overall health of the population.
This summer I chose to forgo a career in medicine and instead focus on improving the health of populations as a whole. My timing could have been better as I was a few weeks into a $2000 MCAT preparatory course preparing for medical school. Sorry Mom and Dad! I decided to aim for a career in public health. With this focus in mind, GlobeMed seemed like the perfect organization for me to join.
At UT, GlobeMed has been working on a partnership with Clinica Ana Manganaro, a local clinic in Guarjila, El Salvador. Last year, the chapter raised money for 41 latrines to be installed. A bathroom is definitely something we take for granted. Can you imagine not having one in your house? Having to share a bathroom in an apartment on campus is often considered a hardship. Having access to bathroom facilities is a huge step forward in improving the health of the community. I applied to GlobeMed and got accepted as the Director of Communications. I’m really excited about this coming year, getting to work with the other officers and staff members, meeting other students interested in global health equity, and working in solidarity with the clinic in Guarjila.