Service from Local to Global

Before joining the AIF Fellowship, I completed a year of AmeriCorps service at a family health center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In this role, I worked directly with new moms on health education and case management. After getting to know many patients there, I was able to appreciate the intersectional factors that impact the health of mothers and their children. By interacting with patients, I came to better understand the significant healthcare access issues faced by many low-income, minority populations in the U.S., and more broadly observed the role our healthcare system plays in addressing various maternal and child health issues.

Valuing my experience with a domestic service program—and hoping to return to India, where I’d done a clinical research internship in maternal health—I sought an additional service experience. I found the perfect fit with the AIF Fellowship. I am thrilled that my position at Bempu Health, a social enterprise developing technology to address maternal and child health challenges in low-resource settings, is allowing me to continue working in an area I’m passionate about. I’m excited to learn how Bempu’s technology will reach vulnerable populations, and to build upon my knowledge of health systems by seeing how Bempu fits into healthcare delivery models in India.

While the context and location of my service experiences may seem very different, many common maternal and child health goals, themes, and challenges have already stood out to me. It’s been fascinating – even already – to see many of the same overarching issues in both the U.S. and India, and to observe how each healthcare system takes care of women and children.

In AmeriCorps, I felt as though I was tackling public health issues on an individual level. I valued the relationships I formed with patients and their families, and the insight this offered into the social context of their health concerns. In my public health and partnerships work with Bempu, where I will see a wide range of settings, from private maternity hospitals to large government medical institutions, I hope to understand how the social determinants of health affect individuals’ experiences with Indian healthcare systems, and how innovative technologies meant for low-resource settings have the potential to improve care and contribute to better health outcomes for marginalized individuals in India. Even my different interactions with physicians—from family doctors in Pittsburgh to neonatologists in Bangalore—have informed my understanding about healthcare systems and delivery in the U.S. and India.

Going forward in my Fellowship experience, I hope that my understanding of some of the common challenges in maternal and child health in the U.S. and India will provide unique insight for my work, and shape my understanding of global health priorities. I hope that my experiences in Pittsburgh and Bangalore, working in health education and health technology respectively, will offer me a well-rounded perspective on creative and effective ways to address health disparities.

The Fellowship is not only widening my understanding of public health issues, but expanding my definition of service. This is my first service opportunity outside of the United States, but I’ve been surprised to find that many elements of the Fellowship have been similar to my AmeriCorps program. From participating in team-building activities at Orientation to having a lively group text with members of my cohorts, in both of these experiences, I’ve loved the strong sense of community that’s formed quickly. It’s been interesting to be in roles that are distinct from positions at my host organization and to be a volunteer or a Fellow, but not a long-term employee, and have the support of both my host organization and other AIF Fellows as well as former AmeriCorps members.

I hope that having both a domestic and international understanding of the issues facing marginalized populations will allow me to be a more compassionate, culturally competent public health advocate. It’s a privilege to be involved in service experiences that align with my professional interest in public health, and I am excited to see what this year will bring.

Abby graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2016 with a double major in Biology and Gender and Women’s Studies and a Certificate in Global Health. As a student, she worked as a research assistant on projects examining gendered causes of health disparities, volunteered as a health coach at a community health center, and worked with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to develop a policy to address physician shortages in rural areas of the state. She has spent the last year as a Maternal Child Health Coordinator with the National Health Corps Pittsburgh, an AmeriCorps program, working with high-risk women and families to provide health education and case management services. In summer 2016, she completed a research internship with the Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon, where she worked on a project studying treatment for anemia in pregnancy. She is excited to be returning to India to work on a public health project with Bempu!

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