Friday, September 21, 2012

How I Fell in Love with My Passion: International Health

I guess every medical student has an idea of what kind of doctor they want to be. Common early ambitions include being a neurologist, a heart surgeon, pediatrician and all other high paying specialties. The type of doctor I want to be was different from others, shaped early on in medical school. It was inspired by a speech, precipitated by a chain of events and consolidated by fateful acquaintances.

The speech that changed the trajectory of my life was the one given by the president of World Bank, though he was not yet the President back then. His name was Jim Yong Kim. The event at that time was the 2009 Harvard Model United Nations. I was a first year medical student. Sitting at the back, I usually fall asleep during speeches or lectures, but somehow I stayed awake during his speech. Mr Jim Yong Kim opened my eyes, literally and metaphorically. It was amazing that after his speech, I never look at medicine the same way again. I begin to look at medicine beyond the four walls of the hospital. Ever since then, the hospital is no longer my world, for the world became my hospital. There at Harvard Model United Nations, I was selected to be the Indonesian representative (though I am a Malaysian) to the World Health Organization (WHO) committee. I had to learn all about the Indonesian healthcare system and all its policies. That's how my interest caught up in healthcare policies and healthcare economics.
Jim Yong Kim's speech during the opening ceremony of HNMUN 2009. This is where it all started
Ever since that event in Harvard University, I believe I have found my life's true calling. I have always been interested in politics, international relations, economics and sociology. But one thing for sure is that I do love medicine most, and knowing that there is a branch of medicine that deals with how politics, economics and socio-demography affects health and diseases, I believe I have found a place where I belong. Some call it international health, some call it global health, and some call it public health. It doesn’t matter because at the heart of it all is the notion that medicine is not confined into the four walls of the hospital. 

Me giving my very first address to the international world. I swear I was trembling at that time! I still do now once in awhile, but learned how not to let it show
My stint with international relations continued even after I came back from Boston to Indonesia, where I continue to study for 3 years. I begin to give lecture and train fellow Indonesians on how to give a good speech in Model United Nations. It was so much fun training people to do the things that you love. At those kinds of moments, you feel so purposeful. You feel like you can do it for free anytime, and the fact that I was being paid for it makes it ever more meaningful.
Training students in Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)
Then after 3 years studying in Indonesia, it was time for me to get back to Malaysia. At first, I was afraid that I would lose touch. They say that in Malaysia I will be really busy with clinical work and would not have time to join a single international conference. I wanted to prove them wrong. Equipped with the skills I've learned in Model United Nations, I became more confident to run for the post of Vice President for the Malaysian MMA Medical Students Society (SMMAMS). I won the post less than a month after coming back to Malaysia. The very next year, I became the President. It was during these 2 years of being involved in SMMAMS that I was introduced to the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA), thanks to my previous President, Mr Justin Lee who gave me the opportunity to present and register Malaysia under the federation at the General Assembly which was in Jakarta at the time. We were voted and accepted into the federation as a candidate member.
Lobbying for Malaysia to be part of IFMSA
IFMSA is much different than Model United Nations simply because there is more action. If previously I was trained to talk, in IFMSA I am trained to walk my talk. It offers so many training workshops, projects and campaigns that it seemed nothing in this world that these group of medical students from around the world cannot do. We are the largest student organization in the world, and our voices are heard by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. I am glad that me and my friend who was with me in Jakarta at that time, Mr Vincent Khor, successfully brought in IFMSA into Malaysia. We would like to self-claim ourselves as the founders of IFMSA in Malaysia, if we could ;P

Just one year through our membership, Vincent gave me a call and told me how he was so much keen to take the challenge and make Malaysia the host for the next IFMSA Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM). I thought it was a brilliant idea and gave it a nod. Time flies really fast, and it happened last week. It was a big success. It is so much fulfilling to see that near the end of my ‘career’ as a medical student, I manage to see IFMSA brought literally into Malaysia. It is true that one of the best pleasures in this world is to be in the creation of something, see it flourish and then walk away and smile at it. In another half a year, I will be having my final professional exam. If I pass, I am no longer a medical student and will become a full fledged doctor. There is a mixed feeling about it. While I am glad that I will finally become the person I want to be all my life, I am afraid that I will never again live this life full of adventure. I might later settle down, have a family and all those things that people around my age do. Somehow I feel I am not ready for it. I feel like there is a lot of traveling to do. Many more international events to attend as a student. So many more great people to meet. Yes, the people are the best part. Along this journey I have met a lot of amazing people with similar passion, one person at a time, bit by bit, made me who I am today.
More than 18 countries participated in our APRM
My sheer love for international health has taken me to more than 10 countries in less than 5 years. My last chance would be the next IFMSA General Assembly in the United States. Should I go? Well, this journey started when I attended Harvard Model United Nations in the USA, what better choice would it be to end it all at where it all began, and complete my traveling line into a circle, where from there, I can start all over again, as a doctor. Hence Washington March Meeting  2013, here I come! 

First ever IFMSA Global Health Debate during APRM 2012. Won the best speaker award for this