Staying Optimistic for Health Equity
I traveled to Quito, Ecuador with Timmy Global Health during my freshman year at Purdue University. During our service trip, my experience with the Timmy staff, patients and fellow trip-goers placed me in a conundrum. Our student group was exposed to the close bond between poverty and poor health. Childhood malnutrition and chronic conditions such as diabetes (among other ailments) actively impacted our patients’ productivity, happiness and quality of life. I wondered if any of us could realistically tackle these issues in few visits, much less a single clinic visit.
Admittedly an optimist, I didn’t fully grasp how treating most patients for generic pains and high blood pressure impacted their lives in the long run. In essence, a single service trip barely makes an impact. Of course, my first Timmy trip was quite memorable and thought provoking. Thankfully, I stayed involved with Timmy and my next three years chiseled my views into a more hopeful outlook.
Since then, I’ve exposed myself to health disparities at the local and international level in places ranging from West Lafayette, Indiana to Ballinganapalli, India. Along with this burgeoning passion to dissect and impact health inequity, I’ve become an avid fan of Dr. Paul Farmer and his work through Partners in Health. His idea of a “preferential option” for the poor resonated with me and so I explored other avenues of community health. My summer work at a non-profit school in rural India proved to me that healthy communities are created not just through adequate health resources, but also through adequate food, water, shelter, education and employment resources. Timmy scratches a small portion of this imposing task in international development, but the organization makes a resounding impact on the patients it touches.
As a Timmy trip leader during my final year at Purdue, I looked forward to seeing the changes in patient care and on-the-ground operations over the past three years. I was wholly impressed Timmy’s Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software TimmyCare. The software made a distinct difference in patient flow compared to my last visit. Patient health data was tracked over visits, which made their clinic visits more coordinated and personalized. Most students had a chance to scribe for physicians, which was an active opportunity to engage with patients. We truly felt the clinic was making an impact by tracking the improvements or slips in our patients’ health outcomes.
Timmy staff in Quito and the long-term volunteers on the ground inspired us with their relationships to the patients and their communities. Some communities even thanked us with snacks – my favorite was the fried plantain – during breaks. Chatting with patients gave me insight into their lives and provided common ground as we hurried around in the bustling clinics. These personal connections with patients drove home to me the importance of Timmy to these communities. Timmy provides reliable primary care and follows up with communities; in many ways it integrates with the community even though the providers rotate. It was quite rewarding to watch our trip goers step out of their comfort zones, develop a love for Ecuador and return to Indiana with a passion to change health inequality.
Timmy is making incremental change in health disparities and in the process is inspiring students like me and my peers. I graduated from Purdue in May 2014 and have entered the Indiana University School of Medicine Class of 2014. During the summer in between, I interned in Boston at a Healthcare Systems Engineering Institute affiliated with Northeastern University. At the institute I had the chance to consult with Healthcare systems around Boston to reduce costs and improve quality of care for patients. I learned about the strengths and deficiencies of the broken American health system and what may be needed to improve it. I hope to be a part of the solution, so my plan is to pursue a Masters in Public Health along with my medical degree.
My experience with Timmy Global Health has reinforced that students, like me, can make a difference on a local and global scale. We may not impact malnutrition, chronic diseases and such in the next year or decade, but we can chip away at these issues one patient at a time. That makes me optimistic.
By Ronit Patnaik
Ronit Patnaik graduated from Purdue University in Biomedical Engineering (2014) and is currently a first year student at Indiana University School of Medicine. During his stint with Purdue Timmy, he served as the Director of fundraising, President and trip leader.