A Pursuit to Help Vulnerable Communities

UVM senior Ian McHale’s first exposure to lack of public health access was while setting up mobile clinics in remote villages in Peru, where there was no medicine or clean water. The biology and international development major credits that first trip to Peru as a life-changing experience.

We talked to Ian, president of UVM MEDVIDA and a student in the UVM Accelerated Master of Public Health Program, about his pursuit to become a doctor and his passion for helping vulnerable communities.

When you first traveled to Peru during your first year at UVM, what were you surprised to find from a public health perspective?

During my time in Peru, there was an indefinite strike of health care workers due lack of proper wages. I visited a remote clinic where there were no doctors, nurses, or anyone to run it, and women were giving birth in unsanitary conditions with no medical help. That experience affected me deeply. Far from any large city or hospital, these women and their children would die if there were any complications during or after childbirth. It was shocking and upsetting to me to see what a lack of public health infrastructure could lead to. Witnessing the lack of medical care in the clinic caused me to want to not only continue with my goal of becoming a doctor, but sparked my interest in public health.

How did your trip to Peru shape your career plans?

I was able to connect my passions in what I was learning in school. I was also able to put what I was learning to the test while implementing community development projects, setting up community meetings, attending patient follow ups, and leading mobile clinics. I made a lasting and meaningful connection with the community members we worked with, and I was able to understand the issues that affected these communities in Peru. These experiences will always be with me and will always have an impact on the decisions I make in my life.

MEDVIDA is the UVM’s official chapter of the national MEDLIFE organization and serves as a student hub for community service and social activism both internationally and in the local community. What do you enjoy most about your involvement with MEDVIDA?

I enjoy the amount of community volunteering and global health education we have in our chapter. At every meeting we are discussing and critically thinking about global health issues. Our chapter volunteers abroad and in our local community, where we make meals for a homeless shelter downtown and serve as mentors in our local community.

You want to work in pediatrics, and have spent time volunteering to help children. Can you talk about your volunteer work both locally and abroad?

I have volunteered on the pediatrics floor at UVM Medical Center for the past two years. I am also a DREAM mentor for two children. DREAM is a mentorship program where college students are paired with children from low-income community housing, fostering strong relationships not only with the children but the community we work in. Both of these experiences have helped shape what I want to do in my future career, hopefully one day becoming a pediatric doctor.

Over the summer, I was a volunteer affairs intern with MEDLIFE in Lima, Peru. I have also volunteered with MEDLIFE during my freshman and sophomore summer for one week in mobile clinics in Cuzco, Peru and Esmeralda, Ecuador. At these mobile clinics, we bring local doctors, nurses, dentist gynecologists, and pharmacists to communities that lack access to healthcare. We also work with the local leaders and community members on development projects such building stairs, bathrooms, and schools.

Why did you decide to enroll in the accelerated MPH program?

I want to learn more about disease prevention and management, how to identify and assess population needs, and implement population interventions. I want to use this knowledge from the program to better understand the healthcare system that I will one day work in. It will allow me to help others because I’ll have an in-depth understanding of public health policy and the local and global healthcare systems. I have learned first-hand what the lack of a public health infrastructure leads to and how to implement public health initiatives.

What is the best part about being a student at UVM?

The best part about being a student at UVM are the range of opportunities that are available. With the UVM Medical Center and Robert Larner, MD College of Medicine on the heart of our campus, we are given opportunities for research, jobs, volunteering, internships, and amazing experiences. My freshman year I was hired at the Vaccine Testing Center and I have been able to work with them ever since. I was able to join MEDLIFE, which has changed my life in such a great way. I have also been able to have internship experiences, such as my current internship with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

You recently saw Paul Farmer recently speak at UVM. What was the most inspiring thing you learned from Dr. Farmer?

The most inspiring thing I learned from Paul Farmer was that rather than focus on cultural competency, we should be focusing on cultural humility to allow us to better understand the people we’re working with and trying to help.

Learn more about the Accelerated Master of Public Health Program at UVM.

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