2017 Summer Scholarship Award Winner Selected

Each time we host a scholarship competition the number of applications we receive increases exponentially, and our most recent contest is no exception. With well over 400 applicants from wildly varied backgrounds, with tremendously diverse interests, goals, and future prospects, the task of narrowing the field down to a single winner was arduous and time consuming. However, after weeks of sorting through applications, reading essay questions, and marveling at the nascent accomplishments of America’s young scholars, we’ve selected Kristin Yu as the recipient of Creative Safety Supply’s 2017 Summer Scholarship!

Hailing from Port Washington, New York, Kristin graduated from Dartmouth College in 2015 with a degree in neuroscience. Since that time, she’s been working as a research assistant at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, researching advanced prosthetics, both for wounded veterans and for civilians. This fall, Kristin plans to attend graduate school at the Yale School of Medicine, a path partly inspired by her time volunteering at a small outpatient clinic in Tanzania. While Kristin’s qualifications for the scholarship were deeply impressive, it was her excellent, thoughtful essay, reflecting on her time in Tanzania, that really pushed her over the top.

We’re proud to present Kristin’s essay here, verbatim and in its entirety:

During my first month volunteering abroad, I disconcertingly facilitated the mishandling of HIV cases, unsure of my ability to challenge the actions of my superiors as an inexperienced outsider. After describing their symptoms to the doctor, patients suspected of having contracted the virus were given a lab sheet on which the test was surreptitiously requested. The lab technicians or I would then perform the test and return the results to the doctor for diagnosis. These procedures occurred without informing the patient of what he or she was being tested for, as patients were asked if they wanted to be tested for HIV only if their bloodwork came back positive. If they consented, they would be sent to the lab for a second time, then finally informed of their positive status. However, the majority of patients who tested positive refused to be officially tested. Many likened the disease to a death sentence due to their experiences with others who had succumbed to HIV-related complications or the prohibitive costs of treatments and tests, as several could barely afford transportation fees to the clinic. These individuals concluded their visits and blithely returned to their communities, partners, and families. Regardless of patient consent, the serostatuses of all tested individuals were noted in the medical record database, even though the patients did not know the truth themselves.

I was astonished and disturbed by the game of Catch-22 we seemed to be playing with the lives of our patients. Not only were we ignoring the patients’ rights, but we were also unable to inform them of their initial HIV-positive results, refer them to Tier II laboratories for official diagnoses and treatment plans, and encourage them to notify their partners because they had been covertly tested. I felt trapped, caught between my personal beliefs on patient rights and ethical practice and my obligation to demonstrate respect to my new bosses, especially in a society that emphasizes elder respect. I confided in a fellow volunteer at the clinic and together, we brainstormed ways in which I could discuss my discomfort to the staff without disrespecting or challenging their knowledge and authority. I summoned the nerve to ask the doctor for a few moments of his time to discuss these patient cases. The open dialogue that ensued enabled me to better understand his views on the societal and cultural factors surrounding HIV and stigma and work with him to change and improve the handling of these cases. He agreed that testing patients without their consent was not an ethically sound practice and that more could be done to address HIV within the Olorien community. Building off the example of OCC’s weekly maternity clinic comprised of measuring, vaccination, and pre- and post-natal health education stations, we formulated a plan to create a comprehensive HIV/AIDS testing and treatment service. Incorporating feedback from the doctor, nurses, lab technicians, and patients, I prepared a proposal and budget for the clinic’s recognition and funding by the Tanzanian government as a Tier II HIV center. Included in this proposal were requests for a CD4 machine, backup generator, more modern, rapid HIV tests, and educational and training opportunities for clinic staff to dispel stigma and increase awareness of how the disease can be managed and transmission reduced.

As the clinic awaits a response regarding the proposal, the staff has begun to encourage patients to be regularly tested for HIV in order to normalize and reduce the stigma around testing. In addition, more conversations about HIV/AIDS, transmission routes, and risk factors are being had during visits. This experience augmented my self-confidence and the strength of my convictions. Though but a volunteer, I was able to voice my concerns in order to promote and protect the interests and rights of the patients with whom I interacted and have these concerns recognized to enact institutional change. I learned the value of steadfastly adhering to and communicating my beliefs in a sensitive and respectful manner, even in uncomfortable situations. Furthermore, I realized my own creative ability to devise solutions, even within institutional limits. My time at Olorien Community Clinic strengthened my commitment to medicine and empowered me to find my voice in championing healthcare equality for vulnerable populations with respect to access, quality, and human rights. These convictions inspired me to run for president of Cover The Globe, Dartmouth’s sole HIV/AIDS club, and continue to motivate my career aspirations. As I make progress toward my dream of becoming a physician in matriculating at the Yale School of Medicine this summer, I will continue to employ creative thinking, resourcefulness, and problem solving skills to address health issues within local and global communities. To this end, I am committed to learning and incorporating community attitudes, priorities, and needs into the delivery of their care in order to design and implement cost-effective, sustainable, and practical health-based interventions that truly benefit the people I serve. Only by considering the task at hand from different perspectives can complex issues be solved, even within the realms of bioethics and healthcare management.

As the winner of Creative Safety Supply’s 2017 Summer Scholarship, Kristin will receive $1,000 toward her continuing education. We couldn’t possibly be more proud to assist her efforts to improve the world.

We’d like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who applied for this scholarship, and we invite everyone who did not win to apply for our future scholarships. We host two scholarship contests each year, and the deadline for our next scholarship award ends on December 15. If you or someone you know is attending an institute of higher learning, have a look at our scholarship page which includes all of the information necessary to apply.

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