Global Health: a personal evolution of perspective

After graduating from high school, I had my initial experience abroad through a trip to Malaysia where for the first time, I saw poverty up close and began to realize how privileged my life was. I was challenged to look outside my own world and for one of the first times, realized the comforts and privilege I experienced in life weren’t universal experiences. Before this formative trip to Malaysia, I was fairly naive to the poverty and suffering both around the world and down the street from me, but after seeing this inequity first hand, my eyes were opened to a social responsibility I couldn’t ignore. Afterwards, I became more aware of inequity around me, both abroad and stateside. I found I was particularly drawn to health inequity and social determinants of health, and decided to pursue a career in medicine.

My trip to Malaysia, subsequent international experiences, and local interactions with people from different backgrounds also sparked an appreciation for and curiosity about the many diverse cultures and ways of life that existed throughout the world. I realized I had a passion for listening to peoples’ stories and learning about their identities and experiences. This passion became more personal as I began discovering new aspects of my own identity, specifically deciding to pursue a relationship with my best friend- another girl – who is now my wife. My own experiences of self discovery and the impact this newly understood part of my own identity had on my relationships with others, my faith, legal implications, and even the way I approached my own health, fueled a lot of reflection on the complexity of identity; specifically, how the many layers of our identities heavily influence both our social circumstances and the way we experience the world around us including the healthcare system, ultimately affecting health outcomes. 

My passion for global health equity took on a deeper dimension as I continued this reflection on identity, cultural diversity, and social determinants of health. My understanding of global health evolved from a concept of delivering healthcare to international communities in need, to a practice of approaching every patient seeking to understand their identities, culture, and social circumstances, and recognizing how these interconnected factors impact their health in order to provide equitable care. In cities like Boston, particularly with our patient population at BMC, this often means seeking to understand cultures from all over the world or using languages other than English to communicate. Other times it means taking time to learn about a patient’s experience being homeless, black, or transgender. It also means educating ourselves on concepts such as bias, minority stress, and intersectionality, and working to address social determinants of health in our communities. When we approach patient care in this way and work towards health equity in our communities, we truly embody global health no matter our geographic location. 

Posted in BMC

One thought on “Global Health: a personal evolution of perspective

  1. Excellent reflections, Emily – thanks for sharing them! I think that initial realization plays a crucial role for many practitioners of global health, and the abstract knowledge of human suffering is very different from actually seeing it. One of the challenges of our field is how to build good experiences for people to have that intellectual hit in a fashion that pulls them into equity work and is not done at the expense of the people they are visiting – no easy answers!

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