Public Health Perspectives: India

This past May I traveled to Karnataka, India with 19 other fellow Buckeyes. This trip lasted 4 weeks and we learned a lot about Indian culture, religion, and of course, public health. Since this trip was focused on public health, we took many field trips to primary health centers, AIDS clinics, women’s health clinics, and children daycares. However, when we had free time our professor took us to a variety of temples, beaches, and old palaces. My study abroad experience has transformed my perspective as an individual and as a student studying Health Sciences. I learned so much while also having fun.

Elephant Ride

At the beginning of my Sophomore year, I was a biology major. However, after watching a video on AIDS in my Sociology class, I began to rethink my career path and what I really wanted to do with my life. I realized that even though AIDS is no longer an epidemic in the United States, it affects millions of people in third world countries and they have no idea what the disease is. Unfortunately, India is one of these countries and health care is not a universal right. After this idea hit me was when I decided to change my major to health sciences in order to learn more about health care and health promotion/disease prevention throughout the world. Shortly after changing my major, I found the public health trip to India. I knew right away that this experience would change my life.

When I first arrived, I had a very limited perspective on healthcare since I live in the United States and have access to primary physicians and medicine. You don’t realize how truly fortunate you are in regards to your health until you go to a third world country like India. I’ve only seen India through movies and documentaries, however, when I arrived there I was shocked. The streets were crowded with no safety rules in regards to helmets, seatbelts, or crosswalks. There were piles of trash all along the road since there is no garbage removal system. The water isn’t safe to drink from the sink and you weren’t allowed to smile at strangers because it would give off the wrong vibe to the opposite sex. Throughout the next 4 weeks, I can honestly say I transformed as an individual. After witnessing so many sick people who had absolutely no resources to get treatment, I knew I had to come back here in the future to make a difference, big or small. This is why I am currently studying to become a Physician Assistant. Once I have medical training, I am determined to travel to third world countries and become a part of Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps.

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The experience that had the most impact on me was when I went on a field visit to the slums. This area was about 15 minutes away from the main village and we had to take back roads to get there. Since my 19 classmates and I traveled by a bus, it was very hard to get around because the roads were very small, muddy, and surrounded by shrubbery. The whole purpose of this field visit was to gather information from the community members about their knowledge on AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB). We also wanted to see how they lived day to day. When we first arrived, we automatically started getting bit my mosquitos. We traveled up a winding, muddy road where we saw several children playing a ball game. We approached a little house and began talking to a woman around age 30 who lived there with her children. We asked her if she knew about the signs and symptoms of AIDS and TB. It turns out she did know about these ailments, however, this was not the case for the next house.

The next “house” we went to was merely a house to begin with. The walls were aluminum panels, the ceiling was made from blue tarp, and the ground was straight dirt. Six people lived in this tiny house. When we approached the parents, we saw them with their children. One little girl in particular stuck out to me because she was naked and had a rash all over her body. Yet despite her obvious health issues, she always had a smile on her face. At that exact moment, I felt a little devastated. Growing up, I had multiple skin problems. I kept thinking about how uncomfortable she must’ve been, especially living in an unsanitary, humid environment. This exact moment was what solidified my goal to become a Physician Assistant with a specialization in dermatology. Aside from my own personal experiences, this little girl had a huge impact on me.

As we were finishing up the interview with the parents, we found out that they didn’t know the signs or symptoms of AIDS or TB. They also told us about their lifestyle and how they had no sewage system in the slums and they engaged in open defecation. This lack of knowledge and unsanitary living is a huge problem. I didn’t understand the severity of this situation until this field visit. People will do anything to get by living here. We passed a woman making cigarettes from tobacco and leaves. We also saw a house that had an indoor oven that blew smoke inside the house. The fumes are actually very hazardous and can cause major health complications or even death.

Ultimately, this experience made me realize that I need to study hard and go to Physician Assistant school in order to help people, especially children with skin problems. I would love to go back to India and travel with a small medical team and help people in rural areas. Hopefully, by the time I graduate Physician Assistant school, the circumstances in India will be a little better. However, until then, I must keep striving toward my goal.

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As mentioned before, my goal is to be a Physician Assistant. My transformation helped me realize that I cannot be confined to solely work in a hospital in the United States. My future medical talent will be helpful to so many other communities throughout the world. My experience in India truly has changed me as a person. Ever since I came back, I have been restless and have the constant urge to travel. Next May, I plan on going to Vietnam in order to shadow doctors in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

Academically, I am more excited to learn in my classes. Professionally, I am determined to achieve my goals. Personally, I have made some amazing friends and mentors on this trip. I am beyond grateful for everyone that helped me have this opportunity. There are no words to truly describe my experience in India. I hope the future students that go on this trip learn, grow, and have the time of their lives.

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