I am not the average STEM student. I am a studying public health with a biology minor on the pre-med track. While public health is a science and an art, being on the pre-med track has given me the opportunity to spend many hours in chemistry and biology labs.
As pre-med students, there is a lot of pressure to be constantly preparing for the next steps in our careers. Whether it be the need to get research experience, intern, or shadow, there is always something to do. For me, studying abroad meant putting taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the STEM world and exploring less technical portions of my studies.
I made the decision to study abroad because I believed it would enhance my overall education. There was no hesitation in deciding to study abroad because I wanted to see how healthcare works outside of the United States. For me, it was just a matter of where! I chose India because of how many advancements in communicable diseases and nationwide health initiatives that truly exhibit what public health is all about.
Whether it be because they want to keep their spot in a competitive lab or because they just do not see the benefit of going abroad, many pre-meds chose not to study abroad. My university and study abroad program does not include any hard sciences. Like any other STEM student, I had lots of anxiety about taking an entire semester off from my major requirements. All my inhibitions were quickly swept away as soon as I realized how my study abroad experience was just as hands-on and informative as the time I had spent in any lab!
My experience abroad has allowed me the opportunity to see STEM and medicine at work in another country. Through my program, I have been able to explore epicenters of science and technology at and around the university where I am studying. I have been able to get firsthand accounts by physicians working in their field about things I had only read in textbooks!
Each week, we are able to go into different health related organizations and facilities like hospitals and clinics and conduct site visits. We are able to see the facilities as well as talk to doctors and health workers directly. Hearing directly from doctors who treat Tuberculosis daily is a totally different experience than reading about it.. In one particular trip to an Anganwadi Center, a center for preschool education and nutritional supplementation in rural communities, I met the teacher who had been working with the families of the community for over 20 years. Some of her students were children of her first students! She was teaching health to children, providing prenatal nutrition advice, and mentoring adolescent girls for two generations despite her advanced age and own health issues because she wants her community to thrive. We can see real life applications of medicine and STEM and hear directly from the people implementing them
In the Manipal University Global Health program, 10 of 11 students are STEM majors, and 4 are pre-med. While we all come from various aspects of STEM, we have all found extreme value in the experiences we have had so far. Uma, a pre-med student at American University says that “India has served as a platform for me to understand how public health and medicine cannot exist without one another”.
While we may not be following a traditional STEM pathway, we are able to expand from the traditional classroom and into making the world our classroom. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to take a step back and see all the social elements that contribute to STEM. I think that STEM students, and pre-med students, can get caught up in the competition and heavy workload associated with our studies and forget the main beneficiaries of our future work: people. Studying abroad has reminded me of the extreme importance of the STEM around the world and the real reason I am pursuing a career in medicine.
Guadalupe Mabry is a Public Health and Biology student at American University and studied abroad with IFSA on the Global and Public Health program in Manipal, India in fall 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study program.