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Global health grad sees difference program makes

December 10, 2010

When Afton Chavez took her first college chemistry class, she discovered a passion for science and a desire to enter the field of medicine. But she also had a deep-seated love of other cultures and world travel, as well as a strong human service orientation. Chavez longed for a way to combine her interests into a program of study and, ultimately, a career.


Then the kinesiology major heard about Arizona State University’s new global health tract, which blends the life and social sciences into a foundation for investigating some of the world’s most challenging health issues. She immediately booked an advising appointment and soon switched majors.


Chavez found the bachelor of arts in global health program to be everything she wanted. It provided her the opportunity to study out of the country and gave her a holistic understanding of human health by exploring the many factors that contribute to it, using the lens of such diverse fields as medical anthropology, geography, genetics, sociology and epidemiology.


Gaining a world view


Before graduating summa cum laude this summer, Chavez traveled to Guatemala as part of a global internship that studied midwifery practices. She says the experience made her more humble and appreciative and helped her better identify her goals for practicing medicine in the future.


With plans to start medical school in fall 2011, Chavez is interviewing with 13 schools and has already received offers from several institutions, including Dartmouth College and Thomas Jefferson University.


She credits the global health program with setting her apart from other medical school candidates and has noticed that interviewers are interested in hearing what she has to say about her unique degree and learning experiences outside the country.


“All of the medical schools that I applied to emphasize a need for global initiatives and culturally competent individuals,” said Chavez, who realized her education, as well as her intellect, made her an ideal fit.


She called the experiential, interdisciplinary global health training the perfect complement to her biochemical and physiological knowledge of health due to the emphasis on social, historical and environmental factors influencing human wellbeing.


The tract also educated Chavez about socioeconomic, gender, and racial health care disparities; current health issues; and diseases throughout history.


“Most importantly, I also learned how to think and act with a broad and open-minded perspective when evaluating situations and interacting with others,” she offered.


Giving back


Chavez is a strong proponent of volunteerism. Last year, she served as a triage nurse and patient translator on a medical mission to Juarez, Mexico. She also participated in an internship with Scottsdale Healthcare and has volunteered in the pediatric wards and emergency departments of two local hospitals since spring 2009.


“Giving up your time to help an organization or a group of people that really needs your service is a satisfying feeling,” she said. “It promotes a good, positive vibe that other people reciprocate. And as long as you find something that you care about, it doesn’t feel like working without pay.”


On a practical front, Chavez sees volunteerism as a way for people to introduce themselves to a field of interest and gain experience and personal connections in an arena that otherwise might be difficult to enter.


Chavez has lifelong plans to continue advocating for a culture of service. Her hope is to do clinical work abroad the summer after her first year and also during fourth-year rotations. After earning her M.D., she aims to participate in an international medical aid group and is considering organizing annual international volunteer trips to underserved countries.


Alexandra Brewis Slade, executive director of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and director of the Center for Global Health in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, called Afton a “wonderful exemplar of what it means to be a motivated and thoughtful activist-scholar.” She added, “Personally, it makes me feel better about the future of health care in America to know people like Afton, with such real concern for others, a broad worldview and commitment to true service, are entering the profession.”