Noelle Benzekri is a first-year medical student with a mission. Even before the 27-year-old New York native spent a year as a clinic assistant and polio vaccinateur in Senegal, she knew that global health was her calling. “It’s the reason I decided to go to medical school,” the former philosophy major acknowledged at a recent meeting of our journal club on global health at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Spurred by memories of her African patients, Benzekri intends to return to Africa someday to train local health workers to deliver care to the poorest of the poor.
The journal club has become a magnet for UCLA students, trainees, and faculty members who share Benzekri’s hopes for greater global equity in health. Many attendees have already worked overseas; others have contributed domestically and now wish to apply their skills and experience abroad. All are hungry to discuss diseases of poverty as well as international policy and aid programs. In the curricula at most medical schools and postgraduate institutions in the United States, these topics receive little time and attention. A new generation of activists could change that.
Take, for example, Sue Tuddenham, a classmate of Benzekri’s and a journal-club member. After graduating from Yale, she completed a degree in international relations at the London School of Economics, worked in the Hanoi office of the Population Council, and then took a job with the International Trachoma Initiative evaluating trachoma-control programs in Niger, Tanzania, and Vietnam. During her first week of medical school, she was already seeking mentors for a career in global health policy. Tuddenham and Benzekri have organized a series of lectures on global health at UCLA.