Written by Kate Douglas, second year medical student at the School of Medicine and president of the Forum for International Health and Tropical Medicine
Global health: it’s a popular buzzword these days. There’s something that feels so fulfilling about focusing on one of the United Nations’ core human rights – health – in a way that transcends political and geographic borders.
As our world becomes increasingly more interconnected, we cannot avoid seeing the horrors our fellow human beings live through: the refugee crisis in Rohingya, epidemics like Ebola, malnutrition killing children throughout the world. With graphic visuals on social media, we empathize and feel the need to be involved.
Yet as students, it sometimes feels impossible. Our lives are tied to our school schedule so we can’t be “on the ground,” and we don’t have the training and skills yet to make a difference: that life-saving surgery, the cancer care, curing a childhood infection.
I’ve been lucky enough, since coming to WUSM, to realize that we can still be involved. The medical school, through the Forum of International Health and Tropical Medicine (FIHTM), offers fellowships for medical students to do research abroad after the first year, and during our fourth year of school.
Working with Dr. Lora Iannotti of the Brown School on a project in rural Ecuador, I experienced firsthand how a single research study could help change health policy in the entire country of Ecuador, working to combat malnutrition by earlier introduction of substantive, healthy foods necessary for child development. Although I only played a small part in this overall project, each student and each group that continues this work helps to advance global health goals.
But more than this, I have realized through these years that global health doesn’t just mean outside the United States. With my fellow Executive Board members of FIHTM, we have pushed to have a larger focus this year on “Global means Local.”
Our community here in St. Louis struggles with health issues as drastic and concerning as many of those that we try to combat in other countries. Perinatal mortality, lifespan, and access to healthcare in some of our local communities are shockingly poor. And here, we have a much larger opportunity to be involved: we live and work in the midst of this. From providing basic health screenings to recent immigrants at the International Institute, to helping interpret for patients whose first language is not English in a variety of settings, to volunteer work with at-risk teens, homeless populations, and a variety of other groups, the medical school offers many ways to get involved in our local community. I see this throughout Washington University as a whole – a recent push to contribute.
So global health, which may seem so distant, so exotic, can be accessible, even to students. Global can be global, but global also is local.