It seems like just last week I was getting ready to start my practicum, and now suddenly I’m here wrapping everything up. As I begin to reflect on another summer work experience, I always enjoy realizing how out of all the things I’ve learned, very few are actually the things I was expecting to learn. Sure, I’ve learned plenty about intrapartum care in low-resource settings… I’ve read dozens of articles about patient experience, provider care, facility administration, and community involvement. I’ve had Zoom calls with a Haitian physician and program director and other midwives and researchers. I’ve written a literature review and a communications plan. And these are all good things—things I expected out of this summer.
But, this summer has been about so much more than those things. This summer I have also sat in on non-profit board meetings and consortium updates. I’ve been a part of engaging with donors and updating records. I’ve been active in supporting local health, even while working for a global organization. From my little desk in my Chapel Hill condo, I’ve been able to engage in far more than a research project, and I’ve learned some things I didn’t expect.
As part of their work in Haiti, Family Health Ministries supports children in an orphanage and school in Fondwa. This support would not be possible without the generosity of hundreds of donors from all across the United States. I’ve been sending each donor updates—a letter and some photos—on how the students are doing, and it struck me that global health work, especially in the NGO world, relies on contributions and support from all sorts of different people and places. Thus, the work is not just global in its destination, but also in its source. We all have the chance to be a part of global health work in some way, degree or not, which means wherever we are, we can be part of building a healthier world.
Back in May my preceptors shared that they wanted to be intentional about supporting local health alongside their global mission, especially during the pandemic. We all signed up for the Blue Ridge to the Beach virtual race—a 6-month, 475-mile challenge that takes you across the state of North Carolina from Asheville to Wrightsville. So far, I’ve gone about 150 miles, I passed through Charlotte, and I’m on my way to Winston-Salem. I enjoy walking and running, and I’m grateful for the motivation and reminder that taking breaks and getting outside is really good for me. But I didn’t only commit to getting in 2.6 miles per day til December for my own benefit. We chose to participate in the race because all proceeds go to fighting food insecurity in North Carolina. In a time when it seems like life is dictated by all the things we cannot do, this is something that we can do. We choose to move our bodies each day because that choice gives someone else better access to food. We choose to put in the work of improving our own health, so that we will be able, prepared, and healthy enough to help others with theirs. I’ve been reminded that global health work isn’t always glamorous or extreme. Sometimes, it’s as simple as choosing to go for a walk.
All those extra things, those lessons found between the expected moments and between the lines of my practicum agreement—those are the things I’ve enjoyed most about my summer. Those are the things you cannot learn in a classroom, and those are the things I will take with me into my career. The skills are important, but the life experience is even more so.
PS—The Blue Ridge to the Beach challenge starts a new wave each month, and the next one kicks off August 1st. Check out their website to register and join us!