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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Honors Program in Medical Education

Smitha

HPME has given me the flexibility and peace of mind to explore my interests and forge a career path for myself. As a freshman in college, I knew I was interested in medicine but I wanted to try my hands at research to see whether the MD/PHD or MD/MPH programs would be of interest to me. At the time, I was intrigued by basic science – by the idea of understanding things at the molecular level to develop new and useful interventions – but I was equally enamored with public health – specifically by the idea of implementing existing interventions to improve health in low income settings. To explore bench research, I joined a molecular biology lab at Northwestern and received a scholarship to spend a summer working on neuroscience projects in Switzerland.  To explore population health, I pursued a minor in global health, through which I took classes at both the Evanston and downtown campuses, and spent a quarter studying abroad in South Africa. Not only did I manage to go abroad twice during college (on someone else’s dime), but I also had the opportunity to take really random and interesting classes. Although I majored in Biology, I tried my hand at operatic singing, beginner guitar, French literature, macroeconomics, African politics, Russian literature, etc. Without the stress of MCATs and the need to have a very linear and organized CV, I dabbled quite a bit and had a wonderful time.

 

By the time I started med school, I had concluded that public health was more my thing. I decided to broaden my understanding more through practical exposure than through specific coursework. I got involved with Community Health Clinic, a local nonprofit that provides medical care to uninsured Spanish and Polish patients in the west side of Chicago. I also participated in several global health case competitions, including the Hult Prize for social entrepreneurship, which offered a million dollars to a team of students who addressed that year’s challenge: “chronic disease in urban slums.” My team pitched the idea of using microfinancing to supply nicotine replacement to tobacco users in India’s largest slums. Though we didn’t win, I became fascinated with the idea of tobacco control. Having completed college in three years, I felt like I ought to take a gap year and pursue this interest. Through the help of my wonderful mentor, Dr. Mark Huffman, I was able to secure the Fogarty global health fellowship to spend a year in India between the third and fourth years of med school. I lived in tropical Kerala, and interviewed dozens of heart attack patients about their experience with tobacco use and the healthcare system. This work led to several papers and allowed me to connect with many researchers and public health advocates in India. I also gained a lot of insight into the delivery of emergency care in India and realized this was a passion of mine.

 

I am now finishing up my final year at Feinberg and will be heading to Denver to pursue my residency in Emergency Medicine. This spring, I returned to South Africa and spent a month working in the emergency department in Cape Town. It was incredible to circle back to the same place I had visited four years prior, and to see how far I’ve come in terms of my clinical knowledge and my understanding of public health. Looking forward, I hope to remain involved with global health research in India and South Africa, with a focus on substance abuse and/or the delivery of emergency care in these settings. I’m so grateful to HPME and the Northwestern community for giving me the opportunity to find my passion and to launch into an exciting career.​

 

Smitha