Passionate About Public Health Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Cameron Lee interns at the Cluj School of Public Health in Romania.
It’s a hot summer morning in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and I look out of my dorm room to the rolling hills that pervade the Transylvanian countryside. After getting dressed and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I walk only a few minutes to the building that houses the Cluj School of Public Health, where I work as a Global Health Research Intern. In my office I meet Madalina, my research supervisor, before heading to the downtown diabetes clinic, which is about a 20-minute walk from our office. Upon arriving at the clinic, we encounter a waiting room full of diabetes patients who are anxiously awaiting their checkup appointments. These individuals are among the 12 percent of Romania’s population that is diagnosed with diabetes. During their appointments, the patients are given the opportunity to participate in our study by allowing their glycated hemoglobin and blood glucose levels to be collected and by completing a survey that gauges their level of health literacy and the frequency of their diabetes self-care behaviors. After touring the clinic where our data is gathered, Madalina and I walk back to the Cluj School of Public Health to continue data analysis for our study.
In an Eastern European setting where public health is a relatively new field, Romanians frequently encounter healthcare issues such as health illiteracy and the lack of access to healthcare, especially in rural areas. These problems are amplified for Romanian diabetes patients, whose treatment relies heavily on self-administered care. Additionally, despite Romania providing universal healthcare, Roma populations are often barred from receiving adequate care because many of them lack proper documentation and experience systemic discrimination. While Romania may be situated almost half a world away from the United States, I realized that both countries unfortunately create healthcare environments that foster exclusivity. In the future, hopefully as a healthcare provider, I aim to utilize my experiences working in healthcare settings on both a domestic and international scale in order to provide holistic and inclusive care to all patients.
Conducting public health research in Romania has been one of the most incredible experiences of my W&L career thus far. Living in a country eight time zones away from home for an extended period of time has allowed me to become more independent and grow as a person. Additionally, being able to interact with individuals from different backgrounds than mine is something that I know that I will cherish forever. I would like to thank W&L for making this experience possible through the Johnson Opportunity Grant program.