Timmy’s Student Network Part of the Movement for Health Equity

Timmy’s Student Network Part of the Movement for Health Equity
July 18, 2012 Callie Daniels-Howell

By Matt MacGregor

For the last three years, I have watched in awe as Timmy’s programming, scale, and scope has grown (and gotten better). Since 2009, we’ve more than doubled the amount of students and medical professional volunteers that support our partners each year, launched new programs in Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, the Amazon basin of Ecuador, and Indianapolis, and significantly expanded the quantity of financial and in-kind donations we regularly provide our amazing international partners. That impressive growth, perhaps most importantly, is leading to tangible and important changes on the ground. More patients with the treatments they need; partner organizations with more financial support; families with more access to care; kids in Timmy communities with a better chance of growing up healthy. 

Given all the exciting enhancements, there is a question that seems to be at the tip of everyone’s tongue in the “Timmyverse,” and one that I have rolled around perhaps as much as anyone: what is the most powerful aspect of Timmy Global Health’s work? When we dissect ourselves down into individual parts, what is it that the organization offers to the global health community, and what will it likely be remembered for years from now? Is it the two million dollars of medicines we provide our partners every year? Our malnutrition efforts and mid-wife trainings in Guatemala? Our community health workers in the DR? Our referral systems in Ecuador? The hundreds of medical professionals we send abroad to support developing world healthcare organizations every year?

It’s certainly not an easy question, and indeed, Timmy has a lot to be proud of. But over time, I’ve become increasingly convinced of an answer. At its core, Timmy’s work is a comprehensive attempt to eliminate health disparities and promote health equity. We do it via direct service provision and tangible impacts on the lives of those with limited access to care. And tackling today’s global health challenges, without a doubt, will require more innovative programs and more efficient service provision. It will mean thinking hard about how we spend our money, how we support our partners, and how we ensure that our efforts ameliorate the direct and preventative healthcare challenges that the communities we support face.

But when it comes to eliminating health disparities both at home and abroad, nothing matches the sheer potential (and already proven results) of Timmy’s amazing student network, and the ability that network has to promote global health equity for years to come. Timmy’s work with students is not a side note. It’s not an afterthought. It’s a proactive attempt to contribute to the national movement of soon to be medical professionals and soon to be community leaders who have the potential to make meaningful, career and life-long contributions to a world in which everyone gets the care they need and deserve.

During the last decade, we’ve seen an explosion of this movement, and an institutionalization of the organizations that promote it. And while Timmy is far from the only organization doing it (for more amazing ones, check out GlobeMed, Medlife, Global Health Corps—to name a few), since 1997 we’ve been pioneering the attempt to blend student empowerment with a practical mechanism for expanding access to healthcare. In this way, Timmy’s work with student leaders at high schools and colleges around the country is not just a means to an end – its also an end in itself. What is the most powerful aspect of Timmy? Our ability to simultaneously meet the needs of thousands of patients on the ground, while at the same time empowering our students and volunteers to realize that they not only ‘can be the change they expect to see in the world’… they ought to be.

And how do we do it? Certainly not just be sending our students and volunteers abroad. We do it by asking them to tackle – both at home and abroad, both while with Timmy and after–today’s most pressing global health challenges. By asking them to serve and fundraise, advocate and volunteer, learn and ask the tough questions, open themselves to see, feel, and incorporate into their worldview the challenges marginalized communities face. And by getting them to realize that you don’t need a white coat or a title to make an indelible impression on someone’s life. You can do it now… and by doing it now you will be more capable, more passionate, more engaged, and more inspired to do it later.

Timmy’s alumni are now doctors. They are Executive Directors. They treat patients in free medical clinics and teach low-income kids the beauty and wonder of matn and science. They are philanthropic members of tech companies, surgeons, social workers, primary care doctors who know that medicine is as much about people as it is about all those things they studied in med school. The work both at home and abroad, and they are making a difference, just like Dr. Chuck always knew they would. Timmy Global Health didn’t necessarily create them—in all likelihood they always possessed some sort of deep-set desire to utilize their natural gifts for the betterment of others. But we hope, and we are confident, that we helped foster that passion. We helped expand and unleash it, and through our work, cultivated even a greater commitment to utilizing it for a career and a lifetime of good.

How do I know? Because I am one of them. In 2004, I stepped into a Timmy clinic for the first time, and immediately, almost subconsciously, realized that I had the power to do things about the challenges I saw. All those academic ideas of fairness and equality and market mechanisms and justice and the power of innovation to change things, all of those things that I studied and learned about and talked about in college, they weren’t just meant for stimulating conversation. They were meant to equip me with the ability and the responsibility to play a role in bettering the lives of others, working in solidarity to help meet their challenges, regardless of the career I chose.

I’m not a Saint. And neither, I suppose, are the thousands of amazing Timmy alumni who have traveled with the organization, fundraised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our partners, put on global health conferences and volunteered at local hospitals and medical clinics. But you know what? To play on a famous phrase here at Timmy – not all of us were born to be Saints. We were, however, all born to be healers.

Read more about role of Timmy’s student and alumni network on our Movement for Health Equity page.

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