Studying Health Here and Abroad: Jake Roberts ’17 Jake Roberts' study abroad trip started with an earthquake, and ended with him finding a passion for public health.
“I began to realize my true passion for medicine and providing care to those with limited access to health-care resources.”
I believe that many of my experiences since coming to W&L have helped to develop my passions and career goals. During my sophomore year, I decided to use the Johnson travel stipend to go to Nepal and explore the delivery of health care in a different cultural setting. While I went to Nepal to volunteer and observe medicine, my experience changed dramatically when the country was hit with a massive earthquake just three days after I arrived. For the next seven weeks, I remained in Nepal and would learn much about life in a country where the combination of weak infrastructure and an unpredictable natural disaster had profound impacts on political and economic stability, and created implications for public health.
Much of my stay in Nepal was spent helping to provide post-earthquake recovery aid to those in need by volunteering with the Mountain Fund (NGO). Many people living in rural areas similar to where I was staying had lost their homes during the earthquakes and did not have the means to rebuild on their own. While staying in a village called Mankhu, I worked with the Mountain Fund at Her Farm — a farm established for and run by women and their children. In maintaining their own farm and providing assistance to others in the village after the earthquakes, the women at Her Farm helped to demonstrate to others in the community that women could actively lead and manage resources in a country in which they often face severe limitations on their freedom.
Throughout my time on the farm, I was amazed by the willingness and collective effort of the women to help others while they had faced struggles of their own. While volunteering at the farm and a nearby health post, I began to realize my true passion for medicine and providing care to those with limited access to health-care resources. I was able to see just how few health resources were available in rural Nepal, especially in terms of preventative care, reproductive health care for women, and care given to those of lower status. No doctors were present in these rural areas, and with the earthquakes threatening to expose individuals to poor living conditions and flooding during the imminent monsoon season, rebuilding homes and ensuring the availability of food resources were essential parts of preventing a public-health crisis. As a result of this experience, I have developed a passion for learning more about public-health issues and utilizing my background in poverty studies to find solutions to social injustices in health care and increase health-care access to those with limited resources. I hope to return to Nepal as a physician some day and lead health camps in areas that would normally have limited access to doctors.
My research experience at W&L has allowed me to explore public-health issues as they relate to women’s health. I began conducting research with Dr. Natalia Toporikova during my first year at W&L and continued this work through two summers. Much of our research focused on the effects of diet and obesity on measures of reproductive function, and I have been able to explore particular areas of interest through this work. In particular, I recently completed the publication of an article in Biology of Reproduction on research that focused on the effects of diet on parameters of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In finding that diet was able to induce disease in both the metabolic and reproductive forms in our female rats, we were able to demonstrate how aspects of lifestyle such as diet and other factors that contribute to obesity could have impacts on disease development and result in impairments of reproductive health.
Working on this publication has allowed me to study women’s health as one aspect of public health, and with my career interests rooted in issues of poverty and a desire to help those with the most need, I hope to become a physician who takes the lead on tackling public-health problems and recognizes the social aspects of health and medicine throughout my career.
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A little more about Jake
Kansas City, Missouri
Neuroscience Major, Poverty and Human Capability Studies Minor
– Men’s Track and Field
– Shepherd Poverty Program Advisory Committee
– Volunteer at Stonewall Jackson Hospital
Why did you choose your major?
I chose to major in neuroscience because of its interdisciplinary nature. Neuroscience draws from a wide range of disciplines such as biology, biochemistry and psychology, but it also allows for focusing in on particular areas of interest within these broad fields. I was especially interested in the research component of the major.
What professor has inspired you?
I think that Dr. Toporikova has really inspired me and taught me a lot about research and the skills that I will need as I move on to the professional world and medical school. Dr. Toporikova has supported me throughout my time at W&L and has given me the opportunities to explore my research interests and achieve my goals of becoming a published research author.
What’s your personal motto?
I think that it is really important to always keep the right perspective in mind, and trust and enjoy the process of getting to where you want to be.
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Bistro. I could probably eat only the bread and be perfectly content.
I will be completing a gap year conducting research and hopefully be traveling while applying to medical school. Following my gap year, I plan to earn both a medical degree and a master’s in public health in order to combine a career in medicine and public health.
Favorite W&L memory:
I would have to say that winning both the Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field ODAC Championships with my teammates this year has been among my favorite W&L memories. It was an awesome experience to complete the triple crown with a close group of friends and teammates.
My favorite class has probably been Medical Anthropology with Dr. Harvey Markowitz, since it allowed me to explore the intersection between medicine and culture. I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences from Nepal, where I had seen the direct impact of culture on the implementation of health-care practices.
Favorite W&L event:
My favorite event is probably Homecoming Weekend because of the many athletic events and the opportunity to catch up with older alumni friends who come back to visit.
Favorite campus landmark:
Some might joke that the Science Center is my favorite landmark because of the time that I spend working there, but I would have to say that my favorite spot involves sitting out on the green in front of the Colonnade.
What’s your passion?
Throughout my poverty studies at W&L, I have been able to focus on issues of public health and grow my passion for improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations. I hope to become a physician so that I can directly help those patients with the largest health needs and address health status holistically as the result of both biological and social processes.
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I probably eat more yogurt than is considered socially acceptable.
Why did you choose W&L?
The Johnson Scholarship really provided me with an irresistible educational opportunity. I was also drawn by the amazing campus, the strong alumni network, and the desire of the professors to help their students succeed.