A few weeks ago, on a rainy Vermont afternoon, a man came to Ira Allen chapel to give a talk. He told us this was not going to be a talk about the “four S’s,” the shorthand for an approach he’s developed for his wide-ranging global health work. Instead, he said this was going to be a talk about change. A change in the mindset of those who think about and act on global health issues. Of course, Dr. Paul Farmer mentioned the “four S’s” more than a few times: the “S’s” being the staff, stuff, space, and systems that make a successful global health initiative. These are the things that allow a community to grow and become functionally independent of international aid. But instead of focusing this talk on the “four S’s,” he made it personal. Which is what global health should be. It is a very personal relationship with a community. You begin to invest in the place you visit; you want the people you work with to succeed, and you want them to grow without you. You want to level the playing field. All of healthcare – global, or local – is about addressing disparities. No matter where you’re born, you should have equal access to healthcare.
The talk became personal for me from the moment it started. I have had the opportunity to travel to Russia and Uganda through the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine Global Health Program, which has molded my world view and exposed me to the world’s healthcare disparities. Dr. Farmer spoke of people he met whose lives have been changed by the healthcare systems that he helped to put in place. He also spoke of the amazing local physicians who really helped to make the difference and bridge the gap between his program, Partners in Health, and the local culture. These same wonderful local physicians are the ones who take time out of their incredibly busy days to mentor medical students from the University of Vermont. These same physicians and nurses welcomed me and my fellow classmates into their country, homes, and hearts, just as we welcome them when they come to Vermont. Our institution has created this amazing sustainable global health program that is only growing in strength and passion.
Dr. Farmer stressed the importance of developing cultural humility, a nod towards cultural competency, which is when you might not be completely competent in certain aspects of a culture, but you have the humility to recognize your own cultural shortcomings. This same humility was on display that rainy afternoon when Dr. Farmer took time away from his internationally known healthcare organization to share his personal experiences with the future physicians, anthropologists, and world citizens at the University of Vermont. He took the time to help pass his passion to the next generation of global health torch bearers, sharing his insights into what a system of successful global healthcare looks like, and why everyone should be invested in its creation.