Since before my freshman year of college began, I have desired to obtain the dual degree MD/PhD. The MD signifies training to be a medical doctor, while my PhD training will prepare me to perform scientific investigations. I plan to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering, where my hope is to assist in the development and clinical implementation of novel devices and techniques. During my time abroad in Peru, these goals have not changed. In fact, this experience abroad has strengthened my resolve to achieve this goal. I now have a better understanding of where I hope my career will take me, as well as the global impact that I hope to make.
In the process of science and engineering, I believe that the most important part of the whole project happens before any experiments have been conducted, or the data has been analyzed, or even before the conclusions are drawn. The key is, first and foremost, to be asking the right questions. What is the current state of my field of discipline? What does the field need now? How will my project advance the field toward that goal? In the health sciences, that goal should always ultimately be the improvement of patient health. For me, in addition to my scientific thought process, my passion is for those that the rest of society has forgotten about. The people who need the most help are often those who are unable to reach it. As I have found through my honors thesis and experience, in Peru those people are the indigenous language speakers. The majority speak Quechua, but Aymara and the indigenous language speakers of the Amazon are also in need of improved healthcare. My life goal is to commit myself to the development and implementation of novel devices that will directly improve the lives of marginalized populations around the world.
This is not a simple task, but requires several vital steps that I have come to understand through my clinical experiences here. First, understanding the culture is key. Without an understanding of the daily life of the population, it is nearly impossible to design a device that will actually result in any kind of benefit. Diving deeper, we must understand what specific problem we are trying to solve. In global health contexts like these, it is often a question of maternal and neonatal health, nutrition, or communication. A cultural understanding will allow an investigator to see the roots of the surface problems, as well as providing guidance to solutions that would actually be socially accepted. Integration of this new technology would require ownership from the community, especially the medical personnel. In this stage of a project, my clinical training will serve me well.
Before my time in Cuzco, I had no more than a basic understanding of all these components to a career in global health. Over the past 3.5 months, both my passion to help the world’s poor as well as the intellectual understanding of how to do so have been amplified. Both of those components will serve me well in my near academic future and throughout the rest of my life.