India Study Abroad

This past winter, I traveled to Jamkhed, Maharashtra, India on a Global Health: Ethnography study abroad session. I was humbled by the successful, sustainable health care the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP), founded by Drs. Arole, provided to the rural villages in Jamkhed and surrounding districts.

Sustainable by Development

Dr. Raj and Mabelle Arole believed in “comprehensive health care,” which means that the living conditions of the villagers were just as important as their health. And this so logical, since we know that how we live directly affects health repercussions. Because of this mindset, Drs. Arole decided to progress the development of villages to improve their health. Some examples of this were providing clean drinking water, covering water pits (to prevent mosquitos from breeding and spreading malaPicture1ria), and improving irrigation (for water supply during dry seasons).


In the doctors’ book,
Jamkhed, one story particularly struck out to me about the importance of development in rural areas. During a demonstration when the villagers went up to thank the Aroles, the majority of villagers were grateful for the water pumps installed in the villages rather than for the medical work the doctors were providing. In impoverished areas, it is vital to provide basic necessities to improve health.

Sustainable by Empowerment

Another aspect of CRHP I was impressed with was that it strove to change the traditional social structure. The caste system is thousands of years old and embedded in the Indian way of life. On top of that, the society is heavily patriarchal. In order to fight these norms, Drs. Arole had to come up with tactics to change the perspectives of both the health workers that worked for them and the villagers. They sat in circles rather than having the highest status person sit at the head of the floor mat. They placed the water pumps in areas where the Untouchables (lowest of the caste system) lived, so that different castes had to interact to get water. One key tactic was to train women to become village health workers. This gave the women more respect and responsibilities in the village. Furthermore, training a villager rather than bringing in someone new to be the village health work allows the village to stand on its own instead of relying on CRHP.

CRHP’s mission and impact in Jamkhed has shown me that sustainable health care in underserved areas is attainable. My experience in Jamkhed has reinforced my desire to serve in an underdeveloped community. And now, when I hope to improve people’s health, I will remember that development and empowerment are just as important factors as medicine to better comprehensive health.

Written by: Sharon Pang

Further Readings:

Jamkhed: A Comprehensive Rural Health Project, by Mabelle and Rajanikant Arole

Step 1: Teach

I was swept away in the conversation about life choices, movies, and culture. As I walked out of the room, I was shocked to find out that almost an hour had passed by already. I was at New York Methodist Hospital volunteering as a part of the Congestive Heart Failure Volunteer Intervention Program (CHF-VIP).

This program trains volunteers to teach heart failure (CHF) patients about healthier life choices and prevent re-hospitalization. We visited the patients in the hospital to give them “teachbacks.” During the teachbacks, we covered diet changes, reminders to take prescribed medicine, and ways to survey if symptoms were worsening. Then, if given permission, we gave callbacks every two weeks for six weeks after the patient’s discharge. In the callbacks, we answered patient’s questions, and reminded them about what we talked about in the teachback. We also encouraged them to make an appointment with a cardiologist within two weeks after discharge.

Often times, I would finish these teachbacks in 10 to 15 minutes. I would go in and follow the lesson I had practiced many times teaching, wait for any questions and then leave the room. However, during one of my shifts I ended up speaking to the patient for almost an hour regarding his past failures to change his lifestyle for his health. As I continued talking to him, he seemed encouraged, even motivated to learn more and change. He even quoted from a movie, “We all die, but it’s about how we die.” I was inspired by his response to take these teachbacks as opportunities to look into the window of the patient’s life. I took more time to ask the patient questions and empathize his or her situation. I found the time spent much more rewarding, and experiences confirmed my hopes of becoming a doctor someday.

During a lecture I attended as a part of NYM’s Summer College Intensive Program, an E.D. doctor wisely told us, “All doctors are teachers. In order to be a good doctor, you must be able to teach your patients about the disease, symptoms, and possible solutions.” I did not really see the truth behind her words until I saw how my teachbacks and callbacks affected patients. NYM’s CHF-VIP has taught me and helped me develop one of the most important steps in becoming a good physician: to teach.animated-light-bulb-gif-30

 

Written By: Sharon Pang

I Challenge You.

Life is hard. It’s not easy when you are working towards your dream and you put everything you had in it, and it just doesn’t work out. It can be extremely disappointing when you tried your best in your classes, but it just was not good enough. You’re knocked down, and it seems like staying down isn’t a bad alternative. You begin to believe that not doing your best is ok because this way you can always have the excuse, “I obviously could have done it if I did my best”. I know because this was how I felt not too long ago. A lackadaisical lifestyle is a disease. It ruses you into believing that it’s ok for you not to start your essay, that’s due in a week, now. You can just start it the day before and get a mediocre grade. This lifestyle is the reason people quit their dream of becoming a doctor. It is the reason I almost I gave up. I saw the requirements for medical school and the first thing I felt was fear. People are afraid to give it everything they have and find out that it’s too hard; that they just can’t do it. So they give up. I stopped showing up to my classes, I stopped caring about my homework. Unfortunately, there are consequences that come with throwing in the towel. The consequences are that you’ll never know if what you had envisioned for yourself is possible. You’ll live everyday of your life wondering if you made the right decision by picking the less challenging career. Regret ate away at me because I realized the only reason I even thought of quitting was because things got hard.

wallpaper-if-it-doesnt-challenge-you-it-doesnt-change-you-brushstrokes-blue (1)A famous motivational speaker once said, “The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory”, meaning that the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will, in the long run, have a much more satisfying feeling, as opposed to giving in to your short term pleasures. If you truly care about people and wish to do something in your life that would better humanity, then go the extra mile. Use your desire to help those that are in need to get you through biology, chemistry, physics, etc. There will always be someone in your life putting you down. They will tell you, “It’s too hard, you can’t do it, your GPA isn’t high enough, do something else”, but you cannot give in. People who can’t do something themselves will tell you you can’t do it either. So in spite of the fact that your GPA isn’t high enough, in spite of the fact you have people telling you, left and right, you don’t have what it takes, I ask that you don’t lose sight of your ambitions.

I ask that you never give up; no matter how bad things may seem. I challenge you to stand back up every single time life knocks you down and fight! Fight for your dreams with every single fiber in your body screaming, “I CAN DO IT!” I challenge you to go against the odds, against the naysayers, against your former self! Show everyone that impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men. Be prepared to dedicate all of your time to mastering your craft. Your goal is to reach the ultimate skill level.  While other people sleep, you are working. While other people eat, you are working. You are aiming to achieve unreasonable results, and in order to do that you must become an unreasonable person. You will endure the long hours of studying and drudgery because they are not as painful as knowing that you let your dreams slip away from you. It will not be easy. If it were easy, everybody would do it. You are not everybody. I challenge you.

Written by: Daniel Shoykhet

Be Thankful This Year

Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful…especially when you’re battling fifty people to get on the 6 train or not sure if you’ll ever see the end of the organic chemistry textbook. But science and common sense tell us that gratitude is the best way to handle all the stress that we get (Brooks 2). A research article published in the journal Cerebral Cortex explains that “gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure)” (Brooks 2). I mean, when you talk to friend who’s happy to be where he or she is in life, you can tell that he or she is a lot more equipped against all the challenges life throws at us.

Growing up, a lot of people complimented my joyful perspective on the world. I didn’t think twice about it; it was just second nature for me. However, as I started college and the struggles of pre-med track, I gradually began to see that side of me fade. I often found myself complaining more than smiling. I isolated myself to better focus on my studies. Although I was spending more time studying, I was often distracted or too tired. During this past month, I came across Brooks’ article, Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier, in the NY Times. I started to reflect on how I was going through my days this semester. My motivation levels were at an all-time low because I had lost an important habit of being thankful and glad. This Thanksgiving break, I spent time at home with my family. I intentionally thought about things that I’m grateful for: education, close friends, family members, my boyfriend, even the ability to comprehend and memorize…Coming back from this break and realization, I find myself rested and invigorated to finish my semester well!

It might be hard to see things to be grateful for amidst all the schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but what about why you decided to stick with pre-med in the first place? Be grateful for all the awesome science-y things you learn everyday and how cool the human body is! Give thanks for your support system during all of this pressure! Be thankful about your passion and perseverance to help others! Biochemistry might be a different language right now, but don’t forget why you’re studying it. The hardest aspect of gratitude is doing it when you don’t feel like it. But that’s when we need it the most. So the next time you’re ready to give up on memorizing the steps of the Citric Acid Cycle, take a breather and think about what you’re grateful for.

Written by: Sharon Pang

Learning how to breathe

The most important thing that I’ve learned during these undergraduate years is learning how to breathe. That may sound strange. After all, don’t we learn how to take our first breaths as soon as we leave the womb? We take that first breath, filling our tiny lungs, and the rest of our lives, we never have to think about it. Breathing, like the beating of our hearts, is something in the background of our lives. Something that we take for granted early on in life.

It’s something that I certainly never thought about. Especially as time went on, and life became busier and busier. I never paused to catch my breath, to take it all in. One exception is the yoga classes that I took in lieu of gym class in high school. There, breathing was everything. When I focused on my breath and on the present moment, the poses were that much easier to do, and I felt better. But I never carried over that focus on breathing to the rest of my life. I never realized its value when taking an exam, giving a presentation, having a conversation, or just sitting at my desk.

I went to college, got even busier, stressed about a variety of things, and again, I never once thought about my breath. I took exams with my heart pounding, waiting for the results, and wondering whether I had done good enough. I did presentations where I was almost always a bit too nervous and almost always speaking too quickly. I had conversations when I said things without taking a breath first to make sure it was what I really wanted to say.

I was always thinking about the future. What’s next? What experiences do I need to add to my resume? Will I do well on the final exam? How will that paper turn out? Always in a rush to get things done, I was hardly ever in the moment. I hardly ever gave thought to the breath that sustained me.

I realize that I’m not the only one. Everyone wants to be the best, to do their best, and to be productive. Seeing that word makes my skin crawl even though I use it all the time. Productive. It makes me feel like a machine. When people ask about my day, many times, I’ll say “I got stuff done today. I was productive.” I look at it as an accomplishment. But is it really? When I give myself time to think about my “productive” day, many times I realize that I rushed through it all without ever settling in and letting myself be.

I think how much better my day would have been if I had just lived every moment of it instead of rushing to get it done just so that I could feel like I hadn’t wasted time and that I had produced something of value. I should have been evaluating my “productivity” not on what I had produced, but how I had felt while I was doing it and if I experienced every moment of it. And I should have given myself a chance to unwind, away from my laptop and away from my worried thoughts.

I’ve been actively trying to do exactly that in the last few months. When I feel like my mind is spinning like tires in mud, I come back to myself. Breathe, I say. Be here. Be in your life. Even when it’s difficult. And it works. I feel better. My work is better. My relationships are better. My heart beats slower, and my breath comes easier.

Last semester, I gave a presentation where I spoke slowly, eloquently, and where I let each word come out at its own pace. What changed? I chose to breathe. In the minutes before the presentation, I could feel my heart jumping out of my chest, and my hands becoming cold. “Oh no, not again,” I thought. But I gathered myself. This time was going to be different. I took a few silent breaths, and I dived in.

During an exam, when I feel my heart racing and my mind going too quickly, I take a few breaths, and then, go back with a much calmer mind.

When I’m having a conversation, I listen to the other person, take a breath, and respond. I don’t rush to just say anything. Especially when I’m upset.

I’ll be very honest with you. Sometimes, I still forget to breathe. I still feel myself rushing, my body in one place and my mind in another. My breath caught in between.

But I always bring myself back.

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Something that helped me realize the value of breathing and living in the present moment is a class I took on Asian religions that included an introduction to Buddhism. We read several texts written by the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Below is an interview between Oprah and Thich Nhat Hanh. Listening to him speak is a meditation all on its self. Enjoy. 🙂

Volunteering: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How

WHO: YOU! The perfect pre-med student.

WHAT: You must volunteer your time at a hospital to show your commitment to health and helping. This is not easy, especially when you have a hefty course load.

WHEN: You should get this done before Spring Committee, meaning before the spring semester of your Junior year (if you plan on applying to med school straight after college). Also, many hospitals have certain times in which they are accepting volunteers, so always be on the lookout for those deadlines.

WHERE: Any hospital is good! Here is a list of hospitals within New York City. The best way to determine what needs to be done for each hospital is to do research on their volunteer department. Don’t be afraid to call, usually that’s the best way to get an accurate answer fast.

WHY: Once again, you must show your commitment to public health and serving the community. It also gives you the experience you need before making your ultimate career decision.

HOW: The hardest part is getting out there and actually networking. Many hospitals list a general number for their Volunteer department and it is up to the student to make the call. These positions do NOT seek you. You must actively seek out opportunities and utilize your time in a way that would benefit you the most. However, this should be kept in mind. General rule of thumb is 200 hospital volunteer hours for a competitive application!