For five itinerary-packed days during spring break, 11 NYU Abu Dhabi students explored the topic of public health on location in Ethiopia. The third installment of the University's Public Health Program, the trip included hospital visits, workshops, volunteer work, and the exploration of Ethiopian culture.
Developed by NYUAD Dean of Science David Scicchitano and Carol Brandt, the University's associate vice chancellor for Global Education and Outreach, the Public Health Program was designed as an immersive experience that aimed to reach beyond the classroom and connect students to the UAE's local public health community in Al Ain and the global health community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Using public health as a platform for studying complex global issues, students analyzed how theoretical course content plays out in real life.
In order to embark on the trip to Ethiopia and experience the full breadth of the program, students were required to complete two prerequisites. First, they attended a lecture presented by Trey Hulsey, VP of Patient Relations at the Oasis Hospital in Al Ain — the oldest hospital in the UAE — who discussed topics including private versus public healthcare, regulatory bodies in the UAE, and the challenges of running a private hospital. Second, students visited the Oasis Hospital, where they talked to executives about outpatient clinic difficulties, nursing in the UAE, and facilities management and safety, among other subjects; shadowed doctors; and learned about the hospital's new facilities.
Hospital visits were also a significant part of the students' experience in Ethiopia. At both the Cure Hospital (an affiliate of the UAE's Oasis Hospital) and the Alert Hospital — each located in Addis Ababa — the group toured the facilities, met with administrators, and learned about the different hospital departments. At the Cure Hospital, which specializes in orthopedic medicine, the students had the exciting opportunity to shadow physicians and observe surgeries, including the repair of a clubfoot. They were also able to interact with the patients by participating in clinical follow-ups with those who had received surgery.
"We got to visit a young woman who was the oldest known case of someone with a parasitic twin," said NYUAD sophomore Daniel Kim. "She was a little younger than us. They had to do surgery on her, and we were able to go to her actual village home and see her in person. It was a very touching experience. She couldn't go to school before, so it was really nice to hear — despite conflicts of language barrier — how her life had changed and how she could now live a normal life."
People from all around Ethiopia came to Cure Hospital, sometimes travelling for two or three days. It was inspiring to see how a single doctor can change hundreds of people's lives.
NYUAD freshman Shintaro Hashimoto was inspired by the hospital's role in its patients' lives. "People from all around Ethiopia came to Cure Hospital, sometimes travelling for two or three days. It was inspiring to see how a single doctor can change hundreds of people's lives."
The group also engaged with local organizations. In addition to participating in a public health workshop with students at the Ethiopian Educational Foundation (EEF), which provides children with four-year scholarships for high school, the NYUAD students visited with Sister Senkenesh, a nun who established the Medhen Orphan's Relief Effort. The charity supports those suffering from leprosy as well as HIV-positive single mothers and their children in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Addis Ababa. As well as engaging in a discussion on health issues, the students — along with volunteers from the EEF — rolled up their sleeves and did some painting at the Medhen Center's preschool.
For many of the NYUAD students, their experiences in Ethiopia served to reinforce their future plans. As freshman Eszter Meszaros said, "My plans have not changed much, but were confirmed in many ways. I had always wanted to work and help in the third world, but I was unsure whether I'd be strong enough. I had also always wanted to work with children. This trip showed me that it is indeed the direction for me to take."
Others were inspired and encouraged. Freshman Sarah Batbold said, "Having experienced this trip, I very much want to pursue an M.D./Master of Public Health program rather than just an M.D. I want to make an impact in the community I choose to practice in and public health is about genuinely understanding the context of health and disease in order to bring about change."
Like many of his classmates, sophomore Adam Fejes learned about much more than public health during the trip. "I learned that helping others means happiness for me and that I do want to make a change when I can. Also, that there is no such thing as the worst or the least — things can always be worse or less resourced."
The trip also prompted many students to reflect on their own circumstances. "The most important thing I learned during the Public Health trip is to appreciate the blessings I have in my life," said freshman Haya Raef. "There are many things I have taken for granted and have complained about. This experience taught me to appreciate even the little things and showed me how very silly my complaints can be."