The Columns

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.

— by on May 23rd, 2017


“I began to realize my true passion for medicine and providing care to those with limited access to health-care resources.”

Jake Roberts’ study abroad trip started with an earthquake, and ended with him finding a passion for public health.

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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