Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Intro to scholarship apps. Ta da.

Five tiny fingers curled around the stethoscope as I listened to his weak heartbeat. Trying to drown out the tropical sounds around me - chickens, babies crying, groans of the elderly, a stray dog barking - I closed by eyes and focused on listening to this infant's heart. Something was definitely wrong. The seven-month old was the size of a newborn, exhausted from struggling for breath, his heart bearing the telltale sound "lub dub whoosh". The doctor at my side and I exchanged glances before telling the baby's anxious mother her child was dying of a congenital atrial septal defect; a hole in his heart he'd had from birth. Without emergency surgery, there was no hope for her son, but this was an empty suggestion for the young Jamaican mother. Extreme poverty and lack of access to medical care made surgery an impossibility.

During my time working in rural Jamaica as part of a medical team, I experienced what the textbook term "health disparity" means for real people. Every day I spent nine to ten hours in small, dusty health clinics across the island filled with sick and hurting patients. I saw children suffering from worms and malnutrition, elderly women with gangrenous infections and open wounds, and patients dying from the ravages of diabetes. As I held infants burning with fever or triaged ailing patients, I became aware of how truly desperate the need for medical treatment is in countries such as Jamaica. And yet, while our medical team dispersed much needed medications and pain relievers, I was personally frustrated with the temporary nature of our aid. We could only stay a few weeks, and within months our medicine would be gone and our patients returned to their original state of pain and disease. I quickly realized that sustainable change cannot be achieved without preventative action addressing the root causes of illness and health complications. Though I was previously a pre-med student, I suddenly understood that, more than anything, I wanted to prevent people in rural, disadvantaged communities from getting sick in the first place. I returned from Jamaica with a burning passion for illness prevention and immediately devoted myself to a career in global public health.