A Lesson from Research: One Size Does Not Fit All

My time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities, Cape Town and Baltimore, has enabled me to comprehend diseases within a larger context- one that encompasses, not isolates, social issues.

The reality of medicine is that patients do not have medical problems in isolation. The medical problems with which patients present occur in the context of their daily lives that are influenced to varying degrees by social, economic, and psychological factors. In Cape Town, at that time, it was often issues of transportation and water restrictions that determined both access to and the availability of healthcare.

“My time working in and navigating medical spaces

within historically complex cities has enabled me to

comprehend diseases within a larger context-

one that encompasses, not isolates, social issues.”

I walked into the HIV clinic excited to meet the next batch of patients I would recruit for my study. But as I started to get set up in the usually packed clinic, every seat was empty. I can recall being confused and curious while waiting in the typically congested HIV clinic to see it barren. I looked around trying to find someone who knew where the patients were or if I had missed something. Was it a national holiday I didn’t know about? Is there a workshop for these patients happening somewhere else in the hospital? I waited for an hour thinking maybe someone would show up, but I soon found out the reason for the desolate clinic. There was a taxi strike.

Taxis (also known as ‘minibus taxis’ or ‘kombis’) are the main source of public transportation for a substantial proportion of people in South Africa. When the taxis go on strike, which can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, most patients cannot make it to their scheduled follow up appointments.

During my postgraduate research experience, I cultivated a strong appreciation of scientific methods as it provided me with the framework, tools, rules, and language for communicating data of populations. But It was during my Fulbright experience that I also had the opportunity to interact with people from a culture different than my own, which showed me that the generalizable models I often sought to obtain do not fit each individual and cannot account for all of the unseen factors that are inevitably at play.

 

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komal-kumar

Komal Kumar

Komal Kumar obtained her MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a researcher, public health advocate, and a 2017-2018 Fulbright Scholar to South Africa.

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