Charlotte Malling ’19 has received the 2018 University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) Summer Internship in Kigali, Rwanda, offered by the UVM Career Center and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Owned and operated by the non-profit organization Partners in Health, UGHE is in the latter stages of construction. The facility is designed to leverage expertise and resources from the Rwandan government, Harvard Medical School, and other key partners to create better health outcomes for Rwandans. Last year Siera Carusone ’19 was the first UVM summer intern to help create a forum for delivery-focused teaching, research, and clinical care.
“I’m a big fan of the Partners in Health approach,” said Malling, who will be working with staff to prepare the university for opening in the fall of 2018. “Their ethos is not to impose a medical system from the outside—it’s more about integrating resources and expertise into their existing system.”
A New Canaan, Conn. native, Malling took up neuroscience as a major with the intent of practicing medicine. But she became more interested in the social determinants of health disparities and switched her major to anthropology with a global health concentration. Her interest is shared by many other UVM students, who will have the option of declaring a major in the university’s new health and society degree program in the fall of 2018.
Malling brings an informed perspective to “big picture” health care issues. During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she completed an internship as a research associate in the emergency department of a Bridgeport, Conn. hospital. Her job was to conduct screenings for patients and collect data for public health studies.
“In Fairfield County you’ll see very wealthy, well-educated people who have good health insurance, side by side with the very poor,” she said. “When I talked with patients I was struck by how many of them didn’t have access to preventative care—they couldn’t afford to take time off from their jobs to make regular appointments or didn’t even have adequate health insurance to do so. It was like two different health care systems in the same hospital.”
In Rwanda, Malling will encounter an emerging health care system in one of the world’s most marginalized regions. PIH has been working there for the past decade, treating stubborn diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer, while working hand-in-hand with the local government to build sustainable health systems. The organization built a new hospital in Butaro in 2011 and is nearing completion on the new UGHE campus where Malling will be stationed. In part due to PIH’s interventions, Rwanda has achieved the most dramatic gains in population health and poverty reduction in the world.
Malling is impressed with the PIH approach that connects local socioeconomic development with improved health care.
“The buildings are consciously designed with health in mind, as well as using sustainable construction practices such as locally sourced materials,” Malling says. “They train local workers instead of bringing in outsiders, arming them with employable skills for other projects.”
Malling is ready to wear many hats during the eight-week internship as the UGHE campus prepares to open. She will work on projects ranging from socioeconomic studies measuring the impact of UGHE’s construction on the Butaro area to campus development work, as the university introduces new bachelors programs in medicine and surgery in the fall.
During her eight-week stay she plans on living at a Kigali community art center, which rents out guest rooms during the year. Proceeds from visitors go to fund art programs at the center, which provide local children with facilities to make and sell art.
Malling hasn’t discounted medical school as a future option—she’s also considering a masters in public health or a master of science in global health.
“The social determinants of health disparities are a critical issue—that’s what I want to focus on right now,” she says. “I’d like to work for a few years before heading to grad school and see where my skills and experience would lend themselves best. The UGHE opportunity is a really good stepping stone for any of those options.”
Illustration: Charlotte Malling '19 and architect's rendering of the new UGHE campus.