2022 Global Health Partnership

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Rebekah Boyd, Team Captain

Rebekah BoydRebekah grew up in the refugee camp of Rafah in the Gaza Strip after moving to the Middle East when she was 5 years old. She was deathly afraid that wild turkeys would chase her through sand dunes, which fortunately turned out to be completely untrue. After returning to the United States she became a critical care, emergency department, and forensic nurse before deciding to enjoy four more years in medical school. Long term she plans to work in global health systems development and capacity-building. In her free time she likes to sing off-key and make up ridiculous mnemonics for biochemical pathways.

Joseph de Jonge, Team Member

Joseph de JongeI grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I live there again currently, but in the interim I went to Brown where I studied Cognitive Neuroscience. Halfway through college, I took a year off, moved to New Orleans for a year with a friend of a friend, worked odd jobs, read Brothers Karamazov and took some time to reflect. In fact, it was in New Orleans that I began to consider becoming a doctor. After returning to and subsequently graduating from Brown, I moved to Mexico City for a year to learn Spanish, while there I worked on a micro-finance related research project, for an artist and applied to post-bac programs. In 2016 I began the post-bac program at Columbia, during which I volunteered at Planned Parenthood and helped out in a few labs. In the year before starting medical school, I continued to volunteer at PPNYC and began doing outreach and STI testing for high-risk youth with Project STAY. Since starting at P&S I have joined Q-clinic, Students for a National Health Program, and the Save Allen Psych Campaign.

Peter Kentros, Team Member

Peter KentrosPeter was born in New York. He earned a BA in History and English from Brown University, where he studied slavery, technology, and their intersections throughout the nineteenth century. After college, Peter moved to the Bronx. Struck by the endemic environmental health problems facing the South Bronx, then the poorest congressional district in the United States, Peter decided to pursue a career in medicine. He hopes to work at the intersection of health and climate change both domestically and internationally. In his free time he enjoys walking his dog, Lugnut, and reading nonfiction.

Jane Kim, Team Member

Jane KimJane was born to immigrant parents in the greater Los Angeles area but migrated all the way to the University of Southern California to complete a BS in Biology and a BA in Social Sciences. During her undergraduate career, she spent a year studying French and art history in Paris where she discovered a love of travel. She had the opportunity to visit numerous countries and was disturbed by the immense disparities in healthcare delivery and access in different parts of the world, particularly Mongolia, Guatemala, and the US. Her interest in health justice led her to Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons where she is now a 2nd year medical student. In her free time, Jane likes to doodle, rock climb, and cuddle with her foster dogs.

Nicholas Morley, Team Member

Nicholas MorleyNick was born and raised on a farm in Vermont. In his adolescence, Nick’s great-grandmother developed dementia, and he watched in horror as her entire extended family struggled to pay for her treatment. In this same time period, a neighbor of Nick’s shot and killed himself after a cancer diagnosis rather than go through the indignities of American healthcare. Nick is currently a second-year medical student at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. In his spare time, Nick enjoys music, long runs, advocating for abolishing private insurance and the subsequent prosecution of its leaders for crimes against humanity, and cooking with his wife.

Team Essay

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – a room full of people talking about decisions they had already made about how things should be done – and they didn’t even ask us,” a Ghanaian physician shares. He has spent the last four years building a system to meet the needs of his community. It is not perfect, but it works. Now, a large, US-funded project threatens to replace what he has built with infrastructure modeled after healthcare delivery in high-income countries. His only chance to preserve his work is to convince people who have never been to his municipality that the system he built is not only functional but sustainable.

This is not an unusual case. For many years, it has been standard practice to approach global health with prescriptive authority. At best, this mindset leads to failed projects and graveyards of useless donated equipment. The more dangerous consequences include weakening the health systems it intends to improve, creation of a culture of medical distrust, and dependency on foreign intervention. Even global health research reflects this attitude, with outside interests dictating the scope and nature of research projects and dissemination of results. This overshadowing of local expertise has been referred to as “the foreign gaze” – a term that aptly conveys the colonialism embedded in the history of global health.

Reading the prompt for this essay contest, we were compelled to challenge the assumptions in its wording. Rather than approach global health with how we can provide value, we should be discussing what exposure to health experts around the world affords us. An example is a midwife in rural Ghana who dramatically increased the rate of attended deliveries in her community by offering blankets to new mothers. She realized that women were avoiding giving birth in her facility out of shame that they had nothing to clothe their infants with; a unifying blanket to wrap every baby in eliminated this stigma. This is a simple, yet profound, lesson. Our goal should first be to learn. This small act transformed maternal outcomes; as foreigners, we would not even have known to ask.

An infectious disease clinic in Peru exemplifies this first principle. US-based healthcare professionals can learn from local physicians about current trends in ID treatment. The tuition charged helps fund the clinic’s primary work of patient care. Those US professionals who can return are afforded more opportunity to work with local physicians, though management of the clinic always remains local. This educational model, which correctly identifies Peruvian providers as the subject matter experts, creates a sustainable funding model and an opportunity for collaboration with US-based providers.

The question of how communities can benefit long-term from medical volunteerism requires a radically different system than what has historically been practiced in global health. Approaching US volunteerism as the opportunity to be taught by local experts empowers both sides. We must stop pretending that we have anything better to offer and focus on learning how to learn.