Today’s post is written by Dr Alok Patel, a third year resident at Seattle Children’s. I met him last year as he immersed himself in training. Since then we’ve been syncing up, learning together about ways he can use his voice, his teeming passion, and his media channels to improve the health of populations everywhere. He’s peppered with ideas, brimming with enthusiasm (it’s possible he speaks faster than I do) and diligently working to carve out his path as a public advocate, storyteller, and pediatrician. He’s a self-described, “wannabe medical journalist [working] to bridge the gap between public health and everyday.” He’ll finish his training this summer and begin his career officially; I suspect we’ll hear lots from him. In the past year we’ve both attended powerful social media summits at The Gates Foundation. And we’ve both stepped away inspired to do more. Dr Patel is starting to tell his stories publicly. Take a peek at his story below – the final quote left me slightly breathless…
Turn on the news these days and it’s easy to feel like the world is falling apart. Globally, people are suffering from different diseases and even though public health officials are making great strides internationally, I often find my self wondering “what can I do to help?” And then I get overwhelmed by the idea of where to start.
Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Gates Social on Science Innovation, a workshop that unites people with two common interests, a love for social media and desire to enhance global health. Surrounded by “impatient optimists,” a software engineer, film director, marine biologist and elementary school teacher I was struck by the fact that we all have innovative ideas… and we all need help getting them off the ground.
I can’t speak for the other attendees, but my “awakening” of sorts took place during a presentation of New York Times Columnist, Nicholas Kristof. He was discussing the variety of stories he’s told, from the harsh realities of child prostitution, to the innovative games that are teaching anti-parasite practices on your phone. Then he said something that really resonated with me.
We need to domesticate international global health issues. You’ll see stories about planes that crash, but not about planes that take off. Naturally everyone gets scared of planes.
Similar scare tactics dominate healthcare media as well – the fear of Ebola is more contagious than the actual virus. But not all planes crash and not all disease leads to death. So where are the reports on cures and progress?
I leaned forward in my seat and went full circle back to my first days in residency. My mentors laid out our vital jobs as communicators – as translators of disease to the public. Then I realized how I could help: I could tell stories. What if we could take that translation to a global scale? What if the right communication could help the software engineer sitting next to me design a life-saving medical app, or the marine biologist discover a cure within the cells of a deep-sea fish or the elementary school teacher help her students better understand the struggles of people in Africa?
Idealistic? Maybe. But everyone has to start somewhere.
What solidified my new outlook and opportunity as a physician-in-training/storyteller was, what else, a story. Dr. Ananda Bandyopadhyay is a senior program officer for polio research at the Gates Foundation. He told of a time he was working in a clinic in Assam, during heavy rain and flooding. They assumed no one would make the trek to the clinic on such a terrible day, when they suddenly noticed a woman, a mother, trudging through the flood with her three children. When they asked her what she was doing out in the dangerous conditions, she simply said she was there to get polio vaccinations for her kids. She said it better than any of us can,
I’d happily walk a mile to ensure they’ll walk for the rest of their lives.
Anxiety gone, a job just beginning.