Written by Emily Foltz
CRHP has warmly welcomed Emily Foltz as the 2014-2015 Mabelle Arole Fellow. Emily completed her undergraduate studies at Duke University, majoring in Biology with a concentration in Pharmacology and completing a certificate studies program in Global Health. After finishing her fellowship in Jamkhed, she will attend the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. Here is what she has to say about her experience so far:
Why did you decide to apply to be the Mabelle Arole Fellow?
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I participated in a program called DukeEngage in Kakamega, Kenya. The program was run by the Foundation for Sustainable Development in San Francisco, and it was an immersion experience working at an HIV/AIDS NGO. I spent 9 weeks living with a Kenyan family and working at an NGO that partnered with other community members to increase individuals’ capacity to effect change in their communities’ health concerning HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB. This experience was life changing. Having taken some global health classes in college, it was exciting to be able to participate in grassroots health work rather than just talk about the issues. This particular experience not only revealed a passion for getting to know different places and cultures, but it also taught me the importance of community support and involvement if any long-term improvement in health is to be made, especially for those who are impoverished.
One day in the middle of applications and interviews for medical schools, I saw an email from my school’s premedical advising office advertising for the Mabelle Arole Fellowship. Prior to reading about the fellowship, I had never wanted to take a year off; I wanted to get into medical school as quickly as possible. But this fellowship offered something more: a deeper experience and opportunity to engage in a grassroots movement that has been tangibly changing healthcare where and for whom it was most needed for 40 years. The fellowship is geared to teach future doctors how to think about health problems in a new way, a way that aims to reduce incidence of disease not just treat patients. I had to go. I had to see this place for myself. I saw the year-long exposure was a unique opportunity for me to really ground myself in the community and intimately know the healthcare challenges that present in the Jamkhed community and how CRHP has developed solutions to those problems. It is an incredible opportunity to learn how to practically problem solve outside of the classroom and give perspective to the practice of medicine before embarking on my medical training.
What has been your greatest experience at CRHP so far?
I am constantly amazed at medical experiences: witnessing my first live birth and C-section, assisting on a C-section, learning about diseases unique to this area, but that is just a small part of the experience. I think the welcoming and inclusive nature of all the CRHP staff and Project Village communities has made the most lasting impression. My first day in the hospital, one of the staff took me into the dressing room and taught me how to do a leprosy dressing. He told me to come back the next day at 10:30 if I wanted to see more. The first time I was told there was a C-section, I was asked if I wanted to scrub in and the doctor immediately started teaching me about the patient’s medical history, why the surgery was necessary, and what was happening at each step. In Project Villages, the Village Health Workers go out of their way to demonstrate their work or how life in their village can cause health problems and how they address it. Nearly every visit concludes with a cup of Indian tea generously offered by someone in the village. Everyone gives, whether it’s tea, information, time, skills, training, or a million other things, for the sole purpose of trying to give another person the tools to take their health, their life, into their own hands. I aspire to be that kind of person, and I especially hope to take these lessons into my practice of medicine.
What work have you been involved in/want to get involved in at CRHP?
My primary focus at CRHP so far has been to manage the new mental health program. The last Mabelle Arole Fellow wrote and received a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to train Barefoot Counselors to address ubiquitous mental health issues in the Jamkhed communities. I have taken up that project to work with CRHP staff to conduct pre-tests and surveys in the villages with the Mobile Health Team, as well as helped to organize counselor training sessions. As we establish this program and partnership, I have also had the opportunity to learn administrative aspects of community health programs and health NGOs, which has been an invaluable exposure as I contemplate my future career in health.
Aside from the mental health program, I spend several days a week either in the hospital or going on village visits with the Mobile Health Team. Currently, Mobile Health Team members and I are working on developing a model to explain hypertension to villagers when we perform village blood pressure screenings. The hospital has provided me with a glimpse into clinical life from helping with wound dressings, sitting in on outpatient clinics, and even having a chance or two to scrub into surgeries. Although this has not been the bulk of my experience, the opportunities I have had clinically have taught me a great deal about realities of life as a doctor as well as practical lessons about how to adapt from book learning to clinical learning, a leap all 3rd year medical students know well.
With my remaining time, I hope to continue working on addressing hypertension in the villages with the Mobile Health Team. I am also interested in developing a physical therapy program to teach exercises for conditions commonly seen in the villages to teach to Village Health Workers.
How do you see your time at CRHP shaping your future in medicine?
One of the greatest lessons I think CRHP has to teach is how to transform personal compassion and goals into action that truly benefits people. CRHP has accomplished what many people would deem impossible: affordable healthcare for all, especially the poorest of the poor, social development programs that include helping people overcome an oppressive caste system, enabling true empowerment by and for those who need it most. With all of the years of training and minutia that comes with being a practicing physician, I think it is easy to be bogged down in the details and forget the purpose of our work as medical professionals. My time at CRHP will serve as a constant reminder to me that change is possible, and one or two people can in fact spark a movement that can grow to change hundreds, maybe thousands of lives. I still have no idea what field of medicine I want to go into, if anything my clinical opportunities here have just widened the number of fields I’m considering. But I do know this: I want to practice medicine that affects change. I apply lessons in community-based care to my practice in the US, knowing my patients as full people and using their stories to shape the care I give them, and hopefully influence my community outside of the exam room to improve individuals’ access to health and healthcare.
Applications for the 2015-2016 Mabelle Arole Fellowship are now available – please visit http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Homepage/MemberCenter/Premeds/mabellearole.aspx for more information!