Why Major X - Global Health

How have your experiences influenced you to consider the College of Human Ecology and how will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?

I have wanted to pursue a career in global health ever since I discovered such a career was possible the summer after my sophomore year of high school. That summer I chose to travel to the Costa Rica to learn about tropical medicine. Because it has always seemed fundamentally unjust to me that people all over the world die completely preventable deaths due to insufficient healthcare, I initially imagined that by going on this trip, I would become one of the heroes, saving the uneducated and underserved. I quickly learned that I was wrong and that I was naively carrying around many cultural biases and ignorant assumptions. I thought we, the educated Americans, could save lives simply by introducing science and bringing medicine to the world. My understanding of global health lacked a key element–respect for the knowledge and cultures of those I sought to "save."

While I did learn about how medicine like vaccines and antibiotics could improve health in Costa Rica, I also learned that answers exist outside the paradigm of Western medicine. Before that summer, my knowledge of traditional healing practices was limited to outdated stereotypes of witch doctors and shamans. In short, I was ignorant. This all changed when I visited a public clinic located in an area primarily populated by the indigenous Ngobe people. The clinic was serviced with a medical doctor alongside a traditional Ngobe healer, which increased trust of the clinic within the community. I also spoke with a Ngobe midwife about her practices. With the closest hospital miles away and a lack of viable transportation methods, she plays a crucial role in the community. These experiences opened my eyes to the importance of understanding and collaborating with other cultures.

The next summer, I put this new way of thinking into action when I interned at Timmy Global Health, which helps provide access to medical care within underserved communities in South America. While Timmy sends volunteer medical brigades to these areas, it also makes a concerted effort to partner with local organizations. When I traveled to Ecuador, I met several of Timmy's health promoters, women within the communities who publicized clinic days and helped distribute medications in exchange for microloans to start their own businesses. The efforts of these women were crucial to Timmy's mission of providing continuous care. I was especially impressed by one woman who used her microloan to start a community garden. She explained to us that as well as becoming an important food source, this garden provided a gathering space for women in a community plagued by domestic violence. As I spoke with her, it struck me that no foreign aid worker would ever be able to come up with that idea. She knew what her community needed more than we ever could. We weren't in Ecuador to save anyone; we were there to help people.

Cornell's major in Global & Public Health Sciences at the College of Human Ecology would equip me to become a "global health helper" rather than a "global health savior." I am drawn to Cornell's overall emphasis on knowledge in the service of the world and see that emphasis coming to life in this major. The curriculum will give me a solid grounding in the knowledge I need though traditional coursework in critical subjects like Epidemiology and Biostatistics as well as experiential learning in international settings. I am particularly intrigued by the opportunity offered by the Weill-Bugando Summer Program because seeing how health services are delivered in resource-limited communities Sub-Saharan Africa would be an interesting comparison to my experiences with similar communities in Central America. Thoughout it all, I know I will be surrounded and encouraged by smart, driven faculty and students striving to make the world better. There could be no better place for me to spend the next four years.