Culture As Construct: Looking Forward to a Global Health Elective in Vietnam

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Elizabeth O’Neill, ’20

Our view of culture is essentially a construct that differs both within and among communities, as its manifestation in traditions and customs impacts people in varied ways. I chose to attend the UVM Larner College of Medicine largely because I believe in the institution’s mission and vision to promote high-value, inclusive care to people of all cultures, both locally and globally. Direct experience with clinical practice embedded within different societies is necessary to develop into a socially responsible, culturally competent physician – qualities I strive to embody as a medical student and beyond.

My experiences, both academic and cultural, have shaped my vision and interest in global and public health, an interest I am committed to pursuing during my medical education. As a teenager, I spent a partial summer abroad in Botswana where, through my time spent in the Maternity Ward of the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, I began to compare and contrast what I observed against my then-limited understanding of the American hospital system. This experience in a small African hospital had a commanding influence on my career ambitions as a physician as well as my outlook on culture and life. I began to think critically about the stark differences in health care provision and quality between hospitals abroad and those here in the United States. Then, during my undergraduate studies, I chose a self-directed study abroad program embedded within the Danish healthcare system through which I encountered marked differences between Eastern and Western European health care infrastructure. These observations further motivated me to understand health care practices different from my own.

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Elizabeth O’Neill, in yellow, with other UVM medical students selected for the global health program this year

Inspired by insights gained while abroad, I enrolled in a Master of Public Health program through which I developed the skills to critically appraise health care systems and contemplate what is required to make meaningful changes toward improving population health strategies. My public health studies honed my passion for clinical medicine and the myriad ways in which physicians can bring such knowledge to scale as agents of change for health and health care delivery around the world while always maintaining focus on the patient.

After completing my Master of Public Health degree, I worked in interventional cardiology research with a focus on structural heart disease, the causes of which vary in different parts of the world: aging in the United States, as opposed to childhood rheumatic fever in Southeast Asia. My time studying cardiovascular disease fueled my particular interest in the Vietnam elective site, as I hope to learn more about heart disease in the context of different exposures and within a foreign infrastructure. In addition, I am excited to witness the practice of tropical medicine and the truly unique pathologies present in this area of the world that are rarely observed in Western society. I am confident that this experience will afford me an unparalleled learning opportunity, while also allowing me the ability to offer a unique perspective to my particular global community.

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