By Alessandra Forero
Just a year ago sophomore, Chelsea Higgins, an anthropology major following a pre-medical track, came to Boston University not as an aspiring doctor but as a neuroscience major. But after spending a week in Honduras with the BU Global Medical Brigades, Chelsea’s entire perception about global medicine changed.
Working in Honduras alongside other students from BU, Chelsea held hands with the children she was helping and cared for women who’d never had a personal medical consultation. The goal of the trip was to offer medical assessments, dental screenings and free medication to both adults and children in the region who did not have access to healthcare.
It took just one semester at Boston University to prepare for her life-changing trip. Chelsea and a small group of BU students took the initiative to raise the funds needed through empowered.org to travel to Honduras. Also before her trip, she designed a curriculum for a children’s “charla,” meaning “chat” in Spanish. Chelsea created this curriculum, which included skits, songs and dances, as a way to have a fun and educational conversation with children about everyday dental hygiene.
Through her time in Honduras Chelsea realized she wanted to study a major that incorporated cultural sensitivity and awareness into the medical world. Upon returning to BU, she switched her major to anthropology to help address some of the challenges she saw her clients facing.
One of the greatest challenges she observed while in Honduras, which was also one of her favorite learning experiences, “was understanding Honduran perspectives and ideals while trying to assist patients. Recognizing the patient’s point of view is equally as important as supplying the medication,” she said.
While Chelsea enjoyed learning about medicine and volunteering at the clinic, her favorite part of the trip was interacting with the Honduran people. “Because I speak Spanish, I was able to have long conversations with locals and learn so much about the challenges not just the patients, but their country is facing, such as illegal immigration or drug trafficking. I learned, without the slant of the media, what these people really see and how that affects their medical needs.”
While she was passionate and proud of her volunteer experience in Honduras, Chelsea shared her realization, “You can’t fix it all in four days, it’s a long process. It takes a tremendous amount of commitment over many years. That only pushed me more to want to pursue global medicine for my future.”
When asked to give her best advice to aspiring medical students, Chelsea said, “Do the pre-med track and major in something you enjoy, something you are passionate about.”
Boston University encourages pre-medical and pre-dental students to create their own undergraduate pathway, as they work toward their intended career, through whichever major they desire. Many BU students major in traditional programs, such as biology or biomedical engineering, while others branch out and explore majors as varied as international relations, psychology, or economics – all while still pursuing a medical degree.
This semester Chelsea is back at BU hoping to use her larger humanitarian perspective on medicine and love for working with people to keep pushing herself in global medicine.
For Chelsea, the choice to come to Boston and attend BU was the first step in breaking out of her comfort zone and experiencing new things through academics, her experience in Honduras, and the people she has met along the way.
“BU has pushed me outside my comfort zone like I never had expected it would. It was a combination of all these things that lead me to see a future in global medicine that would have seemed out of reach in the past. I’m encouraged by watching my peers break boundaries in their fields of interest, which continuously inspires me to do the same,” she said.