Public health and Switzerland. Two words define the educational and personally inspiring adventure that not only broadened my mind, but also taught me how to live life simply, yet to the fullest. After all, there was no better place for me to reflect on life and confirm that I want to become physician than the Swiss Alps. In Switzerland, I saw public health in practice from the policy level to the local level, working with international organizations and community organizations. Community level practice with direct patient contact always spoke to me more than the policy level. For example, one of my favorite memories was taking part in a community outreach program during an excursion to Morocco. We stayed with host families in a remote village hundreds of miles away from a hospital. There came instances when other students and I became sick and I felt so lucky that we had packed even basic medications such as ibuprofen. It was clear that prevention of disease would be vital in an area or population with little access to health care. Health promotion activities we participated in with the villagers made me feel like I had a direct impact on helping them achieve good health.
Upon entering senior year, I instantly signed back up for my school’s student health organization to help run STI clinics and health fairs. I felt compelled to be at the front lines of doing health promotion and education. Fortunately, I landed a volunteer position as a scribe at a local free clinic, where I admired primary care and prevention in a clinical context. Little moments inspired me, like meeting a patient who had fibroids and suffered from painful 2-week menstruations. She was constantly told by doctors that there was nothing she could do. But one doctor taught her to heal herself by lifestyle changes, such as diet and stress reducing therapies. As a bonus, her fibroids shrunk by the end of the year. I had never met a doctor who suggested or used any alternative therapies besides drugs, and he was so adept at counseling the patient to empower her, not just to give her advice and finish. These moments along with my public health experiences confirmed my decision to become a doctor. I want to be at the forefront, directly impacting people’s health medically and being the leader in managing a patient, as I also dearly missed the medical science aspect of health care.
Nevertheless, prevention, empowering people, being holistic, being people-centered, are all key words that have been ingrained in my head for life. I learned them in almost every clinical and public health experience. Thus, I made it a point to preach them in my classwork, research projects, and to people. Furthermore, I worked on a project developing Ebola guidelines in surgical contexts. Patients in Ebola-affected countries were dying from being denied surgical treatment as health staff were afraid to touch them due to unconfirmed Ebola presence suspected. Focusing on the patient as a whole and not as just one disease only might have helped these patients. That is why the guidelines we developed started with treating the whole patient as a priority, confirming disease presence and other health conditions and finally moving on to a decision, instead of doing nothing. Through all of the Ebola chaos that I witnessed on the World Health Organization’s end and in the news media, I was sitting at dinner with healthy physicians from Liberia and Sierra Leone. They made sure I knew that through all of the mess Ebola has caused, there is still life and people are still moving forward, just like we do even with the daily little tasks such as cleaning.
It is the very large adventurous moments and the little mundane moments that make life so valuable. Switzerland was my life-changing experience. I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have experienced great, terrible, everyday life. I owe it all to my good health. And so being a doctor is not simply about helping people, it is also about keeping people healthy. I am excited to join the fight to help people achieve good health because everyone deserves good health and everyone deserves to experience life to the fullest.