Unite For Sight's Alumni Profile Series: Indu Voruganti

Indu Voruganti, a second year medical student at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, served as a Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern in the summer of 2010. Indu had previously attended the Global Health & Innovation Conference at Yale University, which she says inspired her to apply for the internship position. "Learning about innovations in healthcare, interacting with respected experts in these fields, and meeting new colleagues who shared my interests in these topics are what sparked my interest in Unite For Sight,” notes Indu.

After she completed her internship at the New Haven headquarters, Indu became a Global Impact Fellow with Crystal Eye Clinic in Ghana.

We recently connected with Indu to hear about her current endeavors and how her Unite For Sight experience impacted her current career trajectory.

What were your most important lessons learned while participating with Unite For Sight?

Both my internship and work as a Global Impact Fellow showed me the importance of dedication and commitment to serving others in innovative and high-impact ways. The physicians and ophthalmic staff in Ghana were so warm and dedicated to their work and involved volunteers as much as possible. They upheld the best practices in healthcare delivery, and carried out their work with great integrity and tenacity. These are all qualities of work ethic that I greatly admire, and I learned a great deal from the dedicated staff of Crystal Eye Clinic in Ghana. They inspired me to undertake my future work as a physician with these qualities.

I also saw first hand the importance upholding best practices and ethical integrity in global health delivery and nonprofit work, and how volunteers can work effectively without causing harm, if the right training and infrastructure is in place. I saw firsthand that 100% of the funds acquired by Unite For Sight volunteers went straight to the care of patients; no funds went to overhead costs. The training for volunteers was rigorous and comprehensive, and prepared me well for many of the situations I encountered in Ghana. Unite For Sight, in this way, demonstrated effective healthcare provision and organization.

What is your most memorable experience with Unite For Sight?

While serving as a Global Impact Fellow in Ghana, I had the incredible opportunity to travel with the staff from Crystal Eye Clinic to Jasikan in the Volta Region on a special rural outreach. Not only were the landscapes breathtaking, but the experience of administering eye care to the people in this region was an incredible experience. Crystal Eye Clinic had a strong existing relationship with many local villages, and returned every few months to the region to follow-up with patients, and to also provide eye care to new patients in need.

One day on outreach, a very jovial gentleman came to our camp, wearing sunglasses. He had a regal walk, a bounce in his step and a bright smile. He wore suspenders with bright Ghanaian colors. However, if you looked closely, you could see that on these suspenders, there was a motif of an eye all over. He came to me and shook my hand, and said, “welcome.” Then, speaking to me in Twi, the gentleman told me his story. A colleague from the Crystal Eye Clinic Team translated the gentleman’s words. He told me of how one year earlier, he thought his life was over. He was totally blind, and incapable of doing anything on his own. He felt that he was a burden to all in his village. But then, he told me, “The brothers from Crystal Eye Clinic came here. The local volunteer told me about this screening. I did not think it would help me. I was totally blind. But I went anyway, at the volunteer’s insistence. That day, I was told that I had cataracts, and that these stones form with age. They told me they could safely remove them, and that my vision could come back. I felt the tears falling on my cheeks.” He told me about how the cataract surgery changed his life. He said he had his suspenders custom made in the village to celebrate the joyous occasion of his sight being restored. Bearing witness to this man’s story and seeing firsthand how vision care changed his life was truly moving and inspiring. It is an encounter that I think of often, and carry with me in my journey through medical training.

What is your current position, and how do you apply your Unite For Sight experience to your recent and/or current endeavors?

I am currently a second year medical student at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The knowledge, skills and attitudes I developed through my work with Unite For Sight have been directly applicable to my training in medical school. In my work as a Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership intern, I acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge about global health issues and innovations. I learned about effective grassroots approaches to healthcare delivery and how responsible nonprofit groups operate, and this has impacted my work spearheading initiatives in medical school, and overseeing medical volunteer programs effectively. Shadowing eye care specialists in Ghana allowed me to learn about healthcare and clinical communication in a global health setting. I interacted with patients, dispensed eye drops and spectacles, and observed eye disease screenings and cataract surgeries. Despite differences in technological resources from what I had observed while shadowing in North America, specialists in Ghana delivered high quality care.

I was inspired by the efforts of the eye care staff to provide comprehensive eye care, despite logistical and geographic hurdles. I was moved by peoples' willingness to speak with me, despite language barriers, about their hopes amidst their struggles to achieve better health. Their stories showed me that clear and respectful communication, in any cultural context, is paramount in effective healthcare. This lesson, above all, has been central in my work as a medical student. I have the privilege of interacting with people from diverse backgrounds, and hearing their stories.

The experience I had in Ghana showed me the importance of bearing witness, and invoking cultural humility, respectful communication, and unconditional positive regard for all I work with. I also observed that global health delivery is best achieved by developing strategies to overcome barriers impeding healthcare delivery. This includes building local capacity by investing human resources in local ventures, empowering local communities and creating sustainability. These more structural lessons are very much translatable to the way we deliver healthcare here in the West, and I often draw on my experiences in Ghana when I work as a medical student volunteer at Rhode Island Free Clinic, or work with other groups in the Rhode Island community.

Did your Unite For Sight experience impact your career trajectory?  

My work with Unite For Sight inspired me and showed me how frontline care can combat barriers to achieving good health. It helped me acquire knowledge about best healthcare practices and innovations, nurtured in me the attitude of unconditional positive regard for patients, and united my interests in public health, technological innovation, interpersonal communication and scientific inquiry. My experiences showed me that medicine would be the best confluence of these interests, channeled in service of helping others to live a healthier life.