This year I took “Conversations in Global Health” as one of my electives for the Graduate Programs in Human Nutrition. If you have not heard of this class, I highly recommend you take the 1 credit and attend. It is held once a week and there are incredible speakers who engage and excite you about their work in the global community. Dr. Kravitz also has pizza for the first 20 or so people, just in case you needed another bonus beyond the presentations. You can visit the OHSU webpage to find the latest calendar and recorded lectures.

As we wind down this year, we were asked to write a reflection about our experience and what we are inspired to do to help those in need. I thought I would share with you my experience in listening to Dr. Martin Smilkstein’s talk on his experience in war-torn Sierra Leone. I hope you too will find inspiration and think about your place and the tremendous impact you can have on the world.


To  bear  witness

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Bearers of bad news

When your time consists mainly of recycling facts, it becomes surprisingly easy to transition into a binary state – either you’re learning, or you’re sleeping. While that operative mode allows us medical students increased efficiency, it also behooves us to reconnect with our more human sides.

Thankfully, once a week, we participate in a course called Principles of Clinical Medicine (PCM), or, as I like to call it, “How To Be a Good Doctor 101.” From week one, PCM guides us through the bigger picture of medicine, patient care, and how we, as future health care providers, can optimally function in it.

Recently, PCM tackled one of the more challenging topics for physicians – death.

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The safety net

As students we get to experience opportunities inside a safety net. This safety net allows us the comfort to expand our horizons and experience to better utilize the knowledge and skills we are building to go to work in the “real” world. Being recognized as students gives us room to make mistakes that are part of the learning process.

“It’s okay. They’re a student. They’re still practicing; they’re still learning.”

As we validate our competencies, consolidate our skills and knowledge, the safety net begins to peel back, exposing us more to the real world.

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Embracing difference

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from Pooja Saini, a student in the Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master’s program in the School of Nursing. 

Of all the things I imagined nursing school would teach me, diversity was not on that list. After all, I am a young woman of East Indian heritage, born and raised in a place where I often looked different from many of the people surrounding me. My upbringing involved an amalgamation of both my cultures, American and East Indian, resulting in a unique mosaic of beliefs, values, and traditions that continues to define my identity. Shouldn’t I, of all people, understand what diversity is and all that it encompasses? My presumption, as it turns out, was flawed. Enter nursing school, day one-hundred-something, when I come to the realization that there is much more to understanding diversity than meets the eye.

I have no doubt that cultural constructs – race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender identity, sexuality, disability, and beyond – can be highly influential determinants of both the health of individuals as well as their respective health care needs. In the least, my own personal experiences can attest to this. I can easily recall several doctors’ visits during which wearing a paper gown compromised the modesty I grew up with in ways that caused me profuse embarrassment and discomfort. Perhaps there was even a time in my life when I experienced a great deal of anxiety and sadness, but didn’t feel that it was acceptable to give this a name or a voice. The myriad of ways that culture shapes my life, and as a result my health, are undeniable. I am strongly inclined to believe that health care provided within a sound cultural context would only lead to improved health outcomes for people from all backgrounds.

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Nursing students take a trip back East

Zee and Tiffany attending AACN

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from two OHSU senior nursing students. 

Spring break this year was a little cold (27 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact). However it was one of the most inspirational and rewarding breaks I’ve had in my long college career (8+ years). I traveled to Washington DC with my classmate Zee Bakhtiar to get a crash course in politics at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Student Policy Summit.

Here’s a “top 10” of what we learned…

10. Wear layers. The weather seems even more temperamental than Oregon.

9. Comfortable shoes are very important. We walked over 12,000 steps our lobbying day on Capitol Hill.

8. Be proactive. The nurses we met in high caliber positions in Washington, D.C, all got to where they are by paving their own trail. In order for nurses to have a seat at the table sometimes they need to squeeze their way in.

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Giving health a voice

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to share this post, reprinted with permission from Carla’s blog, Healthvoicepdx.

My name is Carla. When I was 5 years old, I remember going out to dinner with my parents in San Francisco. I had lead a pretty sheltered life up until that point and things like homelessness, poverty, and hunger weren’t really on my radar. As my family and I left the restaurant, I saw a man, disheveled, eyes cast down, sitting in a dirty San Francisco alcove. He wasn’t asking for food or money; he was simply watching the world pass him by. I’m not sure what made me think of giving him my food, but I looked up at my mom and shyly asked if I could. You see, to my 5 year old eyes, he looked hungry and tired. While I couldn’t do much about the tired part, I could offer him a meal. I don’t want to sound presumptuous or like someone’s savior or even like a person with some sort of omnipotent complex, I simply had a gut feeling and decided to act on it. What happened next has stuck with me over the last 27 years.

I quietly offered him a box of food and he looked up at me and said, “Thank you missus.” It was the first time any adult had ever thanked me earnestly and with genuinely. Sure my family thanked me for things, but they thanked me as a 5 year old little girl. This gentlemen saw me as a person, not just a 5 year old. In that moment, I recognized the importance of truly seeing others, and I’ve never forgotten that man.

More than two decades later, I am entering the healthcare field. More than anything, I hope to retain my ability to actually see a person and thus my project is born. My plan is to photograph people and find out their opinions about healthcare. I’ve worked with an amazing photographer, Brian Fischer, and we have collected some beautiful stories thus far. I’d like to invite you to share in this journey to see healthcare through Portland’s eyes. All stories are unedited and rewritten with the permission of the people pictured.

My journey

As a volunteer Referral Coordinator at a local community health clinic, I was reminded daily that one does not need to travel far to find disparities in healthcare. Without the help of the clinic, many homeless, minority and uninsured clients would be forced to choose between basic necessities and healthcare; a choice no one should have to make.

I will never forget my conversation with a homeless woman who refused to schedule a necessary radiology exam. She could not bear the thought of accruing additional medical expenses. The woman declined my efforts to connect her with financial resources stating she was more afraid of debt than death. It is her story and countless others like it that fuel my passion to work as a Physician Assistant (PA) with marginalized populations in rural and underserved communities. 

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Keeping my smile

I was asked today what it was like to be a graduate student. The actual question was: “I could never go back to school. I’m too old. How do you do it all and still keep a smile on your face?”

Actually, if they could see the jelly of uncertainty, the butterflies of “Just what have I gotten myself into” under the skin, they would wonder that I could ambulate and make any kind of sense come out my mouth.

But in all honesty, despite the struggle I and every other full-time student goes through, I would not miss the opportunities that this experience is giving me. I bite my nails until the final grades come down; I try to balance family, work and school; I’m in a perpetual state of “am I really getting it?” My job has increased hours recently beyond my normal full-time; I carry a full load as a graduate student; my grandchildren want time with Nana; my children, though grown and parents themselves crave my time, my compassion and my advice; co-workers who suddenly change attitude after 18 months and a husband who requires some snuggle time. I have projects on my ToDo list. Yikes! How do I even find time to breathe?

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The art of studying

During my first year of medical school, I looked forward to writing blog posts. Back then, everything was new so I had a lot to say about what I was experiencing—the clinical exposure, the white coats, the late hours in the library, even the studying itself. The amount of information was overwhelming and the hours slowly melted from day to night, but being a medical student was a new adventure I was just beginning, and I enjoyed it immensely. As a second year medical student, I am still very happy. However, the studying, in my mind, has changed. It’s not new anymore, and as a result the volume of material is starting to feel laborious, the hours a little long, my back a little sore.

The transition from winter to spring as a second year medical student is not a cup of tea. The USMLE Step 1 board exam is fast approaching (we take it in June), so while most people are getting ready to grab a blanket and Frisbee and hit the park, we’re scoping out which local libraries stay open the latest. Just a couple of weeks ago, we took our “mock boards,” pretty much your standard practice test in order to find out how we’d score if we were to take the Step 1 exam right now. The experience helps to clarify the amount of work that will be necessary to successfully prepare for this single 8-hour exam, and while certainly eye opening and even a little scary, it actually feels exciting, too. 

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What do you do with a student nurse?

I have been a student for many years. First in grade school, then high school, the GED program, trade school and then college. I will always be a student; I will never stop learning. But as a student, sometimes I need help.

As a nursing student, there are practicums and clinicals that take place on campus and in other locales. There are on-site proctors, clinical instructors and a myriad of site-specific persons that are dedicated to helping the student nurse learn.

Master of Nursing students have practicums. Depending on the discipline, there could be simulations, clinicals, and residencies. Clinical instructors, proctors and lead staff involved in the clinical or practicum are standard fare as well. Most of the people involved with students are high caliber who bring a personal touch, personal experience and professional passion to enhance the experience for the student.

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Ever wondered what life is like as a student at OHSU? What does it take to become a researcher? Just how gross is gross anatomy? Welcome to the blog that answers these – and many other – questions. It’s students writing first-hand about their commitment to careers in science and health care. It’s honest about the challenges as well as the joys. It’s not always pretty. But it is our story. Thank you for sharing it with us. And please, let us know what you think.

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