1. When did you graduate from UVa and what did you study?
I graduated with a B.A. in Human Biology in May of 2013, and graduated with my Master’s in Public Health in May of 2014.
2. What did you do during your bridge year(s) before matriculation to medical school?
I decided to pursue my Master’s in Public Health as part of the 5-year MPH program, and for the past year I’ve been completing a Global Health Fellowship at St. Joseph’s Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti.
3. What made you decide to engage in a bridge year? I knew that I was interested in public health, and wanted to gain more experience in the field of health care before deciding whether I wanted pursue medicine. The 5-year MPH program was a very efficient and convenient way for me to explore my interests in public health. After finishing the program, I felt like I still wanted more experience working in the field, and was still unsure whether I wanted to do clinical care or just focus on population health. I also wanted more experience working with underserved populations, and wanted to improve my Spanish skills.
4. How did you learn about the position? I was looking for medical and public health opportunities in Latin America, and stumbled upon Medical Missionaries’ Global Health Fellowship on a job search website (idealist.org). After reading the description, the job sounded like exactly the type of experience I was looking for, combining public health programming with clinical care.
5. What did your experience in this position consist of? Can you describe a typical day?
I work with two other Americans to oversee public health programming in 5 communities surrounding Thomassique. We work closely with Community Health Workers to coordinate our water treatment program, the sale of Bon Sel (treated salt that prevents goiter and filiriasis), and our infant malnutrition program. We also facilitate vaccine days and mobile clinics in the villages, and oversee our annual training program for traditional birth attendants. In the clinic, we are responsible for a great deal of supply-chain management, including tracking daily usage of medications and supplies, coordinating the local purchase of supplies, and calculating how much medication needed to be ordered annually. We also coordinate trips for visiting teams of surgeons, and make sure that proper follow-up is done with patients after the teams leave. On any given day you can find me doing a variety of these things – sending vaccines to a village, meeting with one of our Community Health Committees, tracking medications, etc.
6. What distinguished this opportunity from other options you might have pursued?
This fellowship offered an unparalleled opportunity to work both in public health and clinical care in an international setting. This job allowed me to experience a little bit of everything – I gained experience managing programs and local personnel, I shadowed local physicians and teams of visiting surgeons, and also served as a patient advocate/navigator when we had complicated cases that needed referral. This fellowship helped give me experience working in both population health and individualized patient care. While I was originally looking for a job that would help me improve my Spanish skills, this fellowship also required me to learn the unique language of Haitian Creole – not necessarily the most useful language to know, but a skill that will be extremely useful if I ever decide to work in Haiti again.
7. What was involved in the application process?
The application process was actually kind of similar (but not quite as intense) as the med school application process. I applied in early October, and was sent a Secondary Application in November. I then interviewed for the position in late December. The application process finished early, so I thankfully didn’t have to look for another job.
8. Why do you recommend this opportunity for other UVa grads?
This is really the opportunity of a lifetime for students interested in public health and medicine, especially those who want to work with underserved populations. The fellowship offers you the freedom to get a “taste” for a lot of different programs and responsibilities, but also encourages you to work more in-depth with a program that interests you. For me, I used the skills I had developed working with a water program in Guatemala, to inform my work with the clinic’s water purification program. It’s also a great opportunity for students who want more shadowing experience, as a major part of the job requires you to work closely with visiting teams and the local physicians.
9. How did this experience help to prepare you for your next step?
I’ve always been interested in global health and medicine, and this experience has helped me narrow down my future career goals. Shadowing visiting teams has helped me think about what specialties I may be interested in, and has really been a highlight of my year here. Working with the local population has helped me develop a sense of patience, empathy, and understanding, that will undoubtedly be important when working as a health care professional in the U.S.. Additionally, I had to deal with an extraordinary number of challenges this year – everything from not having enough supplies or medication at the clinic, to confronting employees who weren’t doing their job. The management experience I’ve gained will definitely be helpful when working in health care in the U.S..
10. What is your next step after completion of your contract and what made you choose to pursue it?
This experience definitely reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in medicine, so I will be applying to med school in the 2016 cycle. I would also like to gain more experience working with underserved populations in the U.S., so I’m currently looking for a position at a hospital or clinic that would allow me to do so.
11. Is there anything else you would like to share?
I learned more about myself, my long-term goals, and the realities of health care during this year than in 5 years of college and grad school. I would highly recommend taking time off to anyone who isn’t totally sure about what they want to do, or feels like they want a non-academic experience in health care before going to graduate or medical school.