Valle the United States, I had not considered

Valle Hermosa is a small town in northern Mexico My
grandfather lived in a small town that lacked any hospital or health clinic.
Community members, in the event of an emergency, were forced to drive across
the border into Brownsville, Texas to access medical care. Before my grandfather
moved to the United States, I had not considered that access to care varied
greatly depending on where you lived in the world. He was diagnosed at the time
with esophageal cancer, and My freshman year of college, he moved United
States.

My grandfather’s medical care placed a large financial
burden on my family just as college began and, consequently, I became financially
responsible for my academic and living expenses. I worried that working nearly
full-time would hinder my ambition to pursue a medical degree, but I firmly discerned
that my situation also provided an opportunity to deepen my understanding of
the medical field outside the classroom. It was in this pursuit that I began as
a medical scribe at Providence Emergency Room. The extended hours of the
hospital allowed me to work nights and weekends, and then attend class during
the day.

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One evening a man, paralyzed from the waist down, presented
in the emergency room complaining of a pungent smell arising from his
wheelchair. During his physical exam, we found a large ulcer on his buttock
deep enough to expose bone. His injury, the result of tremendous neglect, required
surgery to prevent the infection from taking his life. The patient reported that
he had been evicted from his apartment and, now homeless, had been unable to
attend his physical therapy sessions. I was shocked by the cascade of events
that allowed for a pressure ulcer to develop into a life-threatening condition.
To my surprise, I would continue to see this patient numerous times throughout
my two years at Providence Hospital. A combination of heroin abuse and mental illness
made it difficult for him to seek care outside the emergency room. I admired
how the physicians built his trust over the years by treating him with
understanding and compassion each time he arrived, and I desperately wished
there was more I could do to help. Ultimately, my time at Providence Hospital helped
me understand the inextricable link between poverty and disease, and I
recognized the tremendous need for physicians to serve in under-resourced
areas.

Concurrently, my passion for social justice began to
crystallize. I vividly remember listening to Dr. Paul Farmer, a leading global
health expert and human rights activist, deliver a lecture on tuberculosis. He
spoke about the role of social justice in healthcare, and the need for more
funding and research to be allocated towards conditions that disproportionately
affect underserved communities. It was my first realization that many people
are still not receiving the benefits of contemporary medicine. Encouraged by his
lecture, I began working as a Research Assistant at the Maryland Center for
Health Equity to elucidate barriers to colorectal cancer screening in African
American communities. While interviewing participants I fostered perhaps my
most important skill during college: listening. Through their stories I developed
an impassioned awareness of the socioeconomic and cultural barriers that hinder
access to care. better individual, a more empathetic student, and hopefully a
more informed doctor.

After graduating, I was awarded the Mickey Leland
International Hunger fellowship to lead a research project on food insecurity
in Uganda. I have spent the past year documenting the remarkable stories of the
Acholi community that live in the northern region. This community has suffered
from significant hardships for decades – insurrection of the Lord’s Resistance
Army, forced relocation to internally displaced camps, and political failures –
that have left many without access to a stable food supply or reliable medical
care. My Ugandan colleagues are hopeful that better visibility on the
international stage will translate to more reliable delivery of aid. As for me,
I am hopeful as well. I consider my responsibility to pull these lessons from
my experiences in Uganda to ensure that I am a better individual, a more
informed student and hopefully a wiser doctor.