Reflections on Aravind: One Year Later

As a past CASI intern, it feels so strange to be on this side of the CASI internship experience. I find myself constantly refreshing the CASI blog in hopes of being able to hang onto every word of the 2013 interns as a way to transport myself back to that transformative time last year. Yet, when I reflect on the past year, I’m so grateful for the way that my time at Aravind has shaped my passions and current and future endeavors.

As Aparna posted a few weeks ago, I will spend this summer in Philadelphia working on my senior honors thesis, which was greatly inspired by my time at Aravind. My thesis is a comparative study of Chinese immigrant and African American elderly populations in Philadelphia in their attitudes toward vision, eye disorders, and eye care and perceived barriers-to-care. Using eye care, and specifically glaucoma, as a case study, I hope to explore the “culturally specific” approaches to these minority groups taken by researchers and health care providers to see if they are founded on racially-based notions, and to understand the implications of this on current health care policy.

I became very interested in eye care during my internship at Aravind and learned there that the Chinese are especially prone to developing glaucoma. I began to volunteer with Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia on a CDC-funded study to pilot an outreach model to target high-risk populations by bringing workshops, screenings, and follow-up screenings to senior centers in an effort to improve compliance among these high-risk individuals. I am helping to translate for Chinese patients, and in doing so, became interested in the specific barriers they face in receiving care. While conducting my literature review, I noted that current research attributes their lack of access to cultural factors while research on African Americans attributes it to structural factors. I decided to combine my passions for eye care and for race relations, and thus my final thesis topic emerged.

This summer, I will be conducting the fieldwork for my thesis project, interviewing 25-30 subjects of both demographic groups of interest at various senior centers in Philadelphia. I have never done an independent project of this methodology and of this scale, and I am pretty nervous but excited to see what I will learn along the way. As the Rodin College House Research Fellow, I hope to bring my experiences back to the house by using my project as a launching pad for a seminar on community-based research. I never really expected to take this turn into social sciences research and eye care, but I’m so thankful for my Aravind experience for pushing me in this direction.

And, as a sidenote, I attended a seminar at HHS on Dr. Jim Yong Kim’s road to becoming President of the World Bank yesterday, and I asked him a question about Aravind and what we can learn and apply from the Aravind model. “Of course, I know the Aravind model very well, and I am very close friends with Dr. V’s family. There are a ton of insights we can learn from Aravind model–it’s certainly one of the best in the world.” Even a year later, still dropping the A-Bomb with full effect. (for definition of ‘A-Bomb’ in this context, see: http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0513/feature1_1.html, featuring our very own Sam Ware!)

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About Christina Wu

Graduated in 2014 with a B.A. in Health & Societies at the University of Pennsylvania. Interned at Aravind Eye Care System in Madurai, Tamilnadu in summer of 2012. Awarded a 2014-15 Fulbright fellowship in China to conduct research on dementia care in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.