A “meet and greet” event coordinated in the spring by the International Health Organization allowed students and faculty to gather to talk about practicing medicine and public health throughout the globe.
The event drew 13 Columbia faculty members and distinguished alumni, including Wafaa El-Sadr, director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs at the Mailman School of Public Health; P. Roy Vagelos’54, chairman of the medical center’s capital campaign and retired chairman and CEO of Merck & Co..; Sonia Sachs, health coordinator for the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Project; and Stephen Nicholas, professor of clinical pediatrics and associate dean for admissions at P&S. They shared their experiences with nearly 70 students in attendance from P&S, Mailman, and the School of Nursing.
Sayuri Jinadasa’12, IHO co-president, coordinated the event with other students: Rachel Wurmser’11, Kim Stanford’11, Kevin Carey’11, Sue Gu’11, Michael Healy’11, and Nayema Khan’11. IHO co-presidents are Peter Liou’12 and Max Ritzenberg’12.
“We created this event as an opportunity for students to have conversations with doctors about how these faculty and alumni got into international medicine, what they do now, share ideas with them and more,” said Ms. Jinadasa, who spent a summer doing policy work in Sri Lanka, where her family is from, and plans to go back to provide medical care to the underserved.
Physicians joined students at small tables throughout the room. Over dinner and dessert, faculty and alumni shared details about their international work and their career paths to provide insights about how students might contribute and how to locate opportunities to contribute their talents overseas. Several faculty members who were working on the ground in Haiti discussed their experiences in helping to address the medical and health consequences of the earthquakes there.
Dr. Nicholas gave a keynote address in which he highlighted his overseas experiences with the Columbia University International Family AIDS Program. Dr. Nicholas spoke about the inherent dilemma in providing vital short-term assistance to needy populations abroad. Such assistance, he stressed, may help in the near term and be a rewarding experience for care providers, yet fail to consider the long-term effects on communities when projects are completed and assistance is withdrawn. Dr. Nicholas urged the adoption of more effective, long-term perspectives instead.
“We were very pleased by the response to the event,” added Ms. Jinadasa. “There was a lot of conversation. It started at six o’clock and some doctors stayed until 9:30 or later.”
Additionally, Mr. Ritzenberg is leading design of a new IHO web site to serve as a hub for students looking for opportunities abroad – during a summer break, a year off from school, a fourth-year elective, etc. – and to help students find doctors to talk to about international work, to share experiences, and more.
“Through events like this meet and greet and our new web site, we are trying to create venues where opportunities and doctors involved in international work are made accessible,” added Ms. Jinadasa.