Improbable Tales of Human Destinies: A Russian Doctor’s Experiences Abroad

11 (2)
Rafael Khalitov, MD

I was raised as a bilingual speaker in a region of Russia that maintains peaceful relations between cultures. I remember how my father would regale me with fascinating stories about different places in the world. This piqued my interest in learning about the vast world outside of my hometown. In medical school, I attended courses on infectious disease from a remarkable visiting faculty from the US. Through these clinical scenarios and improbable tales of human destinies, I became interested in global health.

I did my clinical rotation at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. Uganda, like Russia, is plagued by infectious disease, but the range of clinical experience in Uganda is unmatchable in its diversity. This, coupled with the patients’ sometimes voiceless but always genuine gratitude nourished my professional life. This experience taught me first-hand that helping people of extremely modest means could be complex and challenging in unexpected ways.

One day at the hospital I noticed a man who was neither a patient nor personnel. His face was ravaged by despair and malnourishment. He looked directly into my eyes and asked anxiously if I could help him sell his kidney. Before I could even utter a word, let alone even think of finding a local doctor to arrange a meaningful dialogue, the man silently disappeared into the crowd, off to seek out another opportunity for survival. Uganda taught me invaluable lessons in how to help patients from very young to very old, from virtually illiterate to highly educated, and everyone in between.

The communication skills I gained from working in this multicultural environment were put to use when I returned home and found myself juggling three languages on a daily basis. I would speak Tatar and Russian with local patients and teach KSMU’s multinational students in English. Drawing on my previous experience as a clinical and research trainee at the Yale Primary Care Internal Medicine program, I arranged and coordinated curricula and continuing medical education programs for visiting doctors and nurses from various cities and countries. I continue to help build a strong network of fellow global health activists and students. My drive to expand the breadth of my knowledge and experience attracts me to the field of global health, as it offers an incredibly diverse range of possibilities.

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