At this point in my life, health equity describes the intersection of two pieces of my identity that are critical to defining who I am – a Black woman with a passion for medicine. This intersection has influenced my commitment to improving health outcomes of national and global populations by pursuing an MD/MPH program.
Throughout my time at Duke, my personal experiences and interest in medicine have led me to take advantage of several different research opportunities. Ending my undergraduate career by being a member of the Bass Connections “Healthcare Provider Education to Reduce Epilepsy Care Disparities in Uganda” team has been an immensely rewarding culminating experience.
My initial interest in the project stemmed from my desire to understand the role that culture plays in physicians’ and researchers’ ability to address a person’s health status. I was excited to work on a team that had a long-standing relationship with the Ugandan community. Working under the leadership of Deborah Koltai and Neil Prose, our research team of undergraduate and medical students has built off of previous years of research to create an epilepsy care training for providers that is specifically tailored to the Ugandan context. Our current project goals are centered around creating a comprehensive anti-epileptic drug prescription guide and a patient-provider communication toolkit.
The work I have done over the last year has led to many eye-opening reflections. One of my biggest takeaways from our work is the importance of approaching research efforts with cultural humility and empathic curiosity. At each step of our project, whether it be thinking about disease causation or mechanisms of explaining disease, we have been challenged to unpack our way of thinking and push ourselves to move past the idea that there is “right” way to think about or approach something.
While I have been able to cultivate foundational knowledge related to the social determinants of health that often come up in our work, I now recognize that at no point does someone truly reach cultural competency. When engaging with our partners, I am constantly reminded that while this knowledge is helpful, I still need to create space and acknowledge that I will never completely understand the nuances of another individual’s reality. In order to effectively address global health inequities, it is essential that researchers and physicians engage with local community stakeholders with the intent to learn from them instead of coming into a space with preconceived notions or assumptions.
A highlight of my Bass Connections experience has been working with such a wonderful team. Our team leaders have created a welcoming dynamic where each individual’s voice is valued and afforded us opportunities to capitalize on personal strengths while addressing our weaknesses. This project has allowed me to collaborate with people who have vastly different interests and come from diverse backgrounds. I have gained a deeper appreciation for taking a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Being a part of this team has helped me develop a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that contribute to the successful development of treatment plans and cultivation of the patient-provider relationship.
My experience has equipped me with tools that will be essential in helping me reach my professional aspirations. I have also gained mentors and peers that will continue to support me even after my time at Duke. The breadth and scope of my Bass Connections experience has impacted the development of my research skills and professional network in myriad ways that will inform the work I engage with post-graduation from Duke University.