The following is a guest post by UNMC third-year medical student Eric Nagengast.
For the past eight months, one of the hardest questions for me to answer has been, “Where do you live?”
In this time, I’ve spent two months in Rwanda, three months in Boston, one month in India and the rest of the time between Nebraska, Colombia and a few other countries.
Since I’m a medical student, people wonder how I’m able to spend so much time away from school. I’m able to travel because I took a leave of absence from medical school between my third and fourth years.
Yes, it may seem crazy, but I actually agreed to put an extra year between myself and the elusive M.D. because I am spending this year as a Paul Farmer Global Surgery Research Associate with the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC) at Harvard Medical School.
At PGSSC, we believe safe surgery is a right that all humans should have. Through research, advocacy and clinical assistance, PGSSC strives to bring safe surgery to the people of low- and middle-income countries.
Historically, surgical care has largely been left out of global health priorities. So our battle is not an easy one. Our group is composed of physicians from the affiliated Harvard hospitals, fellows, residents, students and support staff from multiple schools, countries and continents.
I am writing this post 30,000 feet above the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, four hours into a 14-hour flight from Newark to Delhi, the major leg of what is bound to be around a 30-hour trip to Guwahati, India.
In the last six months, I have grown accustomed to spending large chunks of time in airports and airplanes. One can actually get a lot done crammed between a couple of strangers for hours with no contact with the outside world (that is, of course, once one has seen every movie the in-flight entertainment has to offer).
Along with traveling, I also have grown accustomed to leaving the luxuries of the western world behind (such as hot water and easy access to food), and I am actually looking forward to my next few months abroad.
In India, my team and I are working on a number of research projects in joint partnership with Operation Smile, an international cleft-care organization. Through these projects, we hope to give a voice to the voiceless. We hope to show the great need there is for surgical care throughout the world, and we hope to show this need can be treated in a cost-effective and safe manner.
While I am in Guwahati, I will be lucky enough to scrub in to cleft surgery with some of the world’s greatest cleft surgeons. For a medical student with the goal of becoming a plastic surgeon, this experience is a dream come true.
I could not share my story without thanking those who have supported me and helped make my experience possible. In particular, I would like to thank my family and everyone behind the Nellie House Craven Scholarship.
This year is undoubtedly the best year of my life. I have met the most amazing people, I have seen the most amazing things, and I now have a vision of what I would like to do with my future. Most importantly, I am the happiest I have ever been.
I will return to UNMC a better clinician, a better researcher and a better person. I hope my story inspires more UNMC students to consider taking less traditional paths toward their degrees.
Stay tuned for my next post on a day in my life in Guwahati, India.