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Metcalf Fellowship opens new horizons for an aspiring doctor
By Chris Barnett / April 22, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...
Austin Demers enrolled at the University of Rhode Island planning to become a doctor. But then the Charlestown senior received one of our Metcalf Fellowships, which opened her eyes to different cultures and new ways of thinking.

Austin traveled to India in January, spending four weeks in Mumbai, observing surgeries, visiting slum clinics and talking to doctors who treat patients with AIDS and leprosy.

“Learning about leprosy was the most interesting part,” says Demers. “There is such a cultural stigma attached to it. The people are marginalized. They get the disease because of their circumstances, and it grows so slowly that by the time they realize they have it years down the road it may be too late to reverse the damage it caused.”

That experience got her thinking about the role of culture in medicine, and she began to question her plans to become a doctor.

“I learned so much from a social and cultural standpoint,” she says of the time she spent in India. “And I learned what it’s like to be a foreigner and the difficulties of being from somewhere else. It was truly eye opening and exciting.”

Demers hasn’t closed the door to being a doctor, shadowing pediatrician Lynne Fasenello weekly, asking her questions and observing her interactions with patients. But as she does so, Austin finds herself more interested in how the doctor communicates with her patients rather than in the diagnosis or treatment she prescribes.

“Science and medicine are all about questions and answers; it’s a way of thinking,” she said. “I’m growing more and more interested in science literacy and science communication. People see science as a cold thing, but there’s so much more to it than that.”

But she can’t seem to let go of her lingering interest in medicine.

“I know that being a doctor would be amazing,” she admits, “but I also see all sorts of other pathways I’d like to take. Maybe it will be medicine, maybe some other aspect of health care. So many things are possible.”
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