Photo: Faculty at the Soka Ikeda College of Arts and Sciences in Chennai, India graciously receive students from the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS.

Amrita Ayer is a second year student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. This past summer, she completed a short-term training program (STTP) in global health research in Chennai, India.

What motivated you to pursue the global short-term training program (STTP)?
I came to DGSOM wanting to do global health work in the future, but not knowing what that entailed. The global STTP seemed like an incredible, natural way for me to learn from another health system, further develop research skills, and form a relationship with mentors both here and abroad.

Did you have global health experience prior to completing your research project?
I actually didn’t have any global health experience going in, which made me a bit nervous at first, as I wanted to be sure I could contribute effectively. On the other hand, this lack of experience also meant that I had no expectations of my STTP, meaning that I could participate in and enjoy it with an open mind. The strong mentorship I received, through the Center for World Health, my faculty mentor (Dr. Kiran Mitha), as well as the physicians and staff members at the partner site made me feel prepared and as though I was part of a community working toward a common goal.

What did your research project consist of?
While in Chennai, I worked with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Internation Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA). I did a qualitative research project to evaluate the success of a telephone triage pilot the NGO had developed in concert with UCLA last year. The research consisted of semi-structured interviews with the NGO’s staff, volunteers, and patients and allowed me to further develop my research skills. I am now preparing an abstract to submit to conferences and will continue to work with the NGO in whatever capacity they need.

What drew you to this particular site and topic?
I picked Chennai as my STTP site for both professional and personal reasons. Professionally, this STTP served as an incredible model of community health work and advocacy, which are important to me. Personally, I felt a strong connection to the location, as it is my father’s birthplace and so I care deeply about the community.

How did participating in a global STTP influence your career plans?
This global STTP reaffirmed my desire to work internationally in the future, as it showed me a sustainable, ethical partnership between a U.S.-based institution and an international organization. I think that global health and local health are really two sides of the same coin of advocacy and health justice and I would like to engage both fronts in my career.

What advice would you give to medical students interested in participating in a global STTP?
Practically, I would tell them to be organized—create a timeline where you can plan your project, meet with mentors, and submit your proposal to the IRB early, so that you are ready to go once you arrive in country. Perhaps a little paradoxically, though, I would also tell them to be very flexible, because the (global) STTP can have many moving parts and the best way to enjoy them is to be open to changes.

Amrita can be reached at AAyer@mednet.ucla.edu.
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