7/9/2011 5 Comments
Crash Course on Global Health
Impact Warning: Proceed with caution.
You could say that I crashed into this program, eyes forward and hands outstretched, anticipating a fall. Some people plan their summers months ahead of time, carefully mapping out every activity. I hate to admit that I was one of those people. I started thinking about Summer 2011 around January. Yet, as usual, things didn’t pan out quite as I expected. Life bumps you off your chosen path, sends you rejection letters, and suddenly you’re driving on the wrong side of the road.
The Albert Einstein College of Medicine is located in the Bronx, NY. Composed of elegant, glass-paneled research facilities, a hospital, and multiple residential halls, it is also home to several graduate schools including the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.
This is the building where my course, the Summer Institute in Global Health, was held. The two-week didactic seminar series invited professors in public health, neurology, and medicine to speak on topics that ranged from “Research Methods and Design” to “Ethics and Global Health.”
I am a wet-lab researcher by experience. Having worked with pipettes and centrifuges since high school, I’ve cultured human neuroblastoma, performed flow cytometry, smelled daily the faintly bread-like smell of yeast, run PCRs and Western blots, the list goes on. Yet, research on human beings? Data generated from surveys? N values in the thousands?
Even the vocabulary of the public health field is entirely foreign to me. Through the course, I’ve been exposed to studies with acronyms such as CBPR (Community-Based Participatory Research) and have learned the subtle differences between words like “prevalence” and “incidence.” Over and over again, the course has stressed the significance of social determinants in the spread of human epidemics. Factors such as environment and societal expectations (“norms”) are major reasons as to why so many human diseases prevail despite the availability of effective drugs and treatments.
In total, there are eight participants in the course. Interestingly enough, all of us are female. It begs the question: why are so many women going into the field of public health?
To be honest, coming from a hard science background, I found the social sciences to be comparatively intuitive and easy to grasp. That being said, the problems that public and global health officials have to deal with are, for lack of a better word, overwhelming. India, alone, supports 1.2 billion people on land that is a third the size of the United States. There, the number of people with communicable and non-communicable diseases (examples include HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, cardiovascular disease, and obesity) is rising rapidly. It takes heart, sacrifice, and cultural open-mindedness to even begin to attack the root of such problems. Money is sparse in such fields, and so, advocates need to be driven by real passion. And it seems that in the field of global health, women are the ones stepping up to the plate.
This is not to exclude all the guys out there with a drive to battle epidemics. With the onset of globalization, global health seems to be the next hot field for many motivated college grads. Countless non-profits go abroad to support developing and Third World countries. Research can now be a multi-national endeavor. Yet, the issues to be faced are on a level of complexity and scale that personally makes me quake in my shoes.
If I’ve learned anything over these past two weeks, it’s that the problem of bringing health to people is so much deeper than having the right medication. Promoting health and preventing disease is one of the hardest issues humankind faces, and it is, in this way, a truly worthy cause. This summer course has left me with a strange and incredible feeling, awe mixed with apprehension and determination. Of course, it’s all amplified by the fact that I leave for India in five days (?!).
You know, life can throw its curveballs, but actually, driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t too bad.
Especially if you find yourself driving left-handed in India.
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Stephanie M. Wang is a Chemical and Physical Biology major at Harvard College, Class of 2013. She is a pre-med who just can't get enough of the hard sciences. She loves learning new things, frisbee, poetry, every kind of apple, people. Stephanie blogs regularly for the Scientista Foundation: Find her blog here!
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