Maintaining passion for public health during residency: an alumna interview with Divya Mallampati (Weinberg 2009)

Divya Mallampati graduated from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She was a pre-medical student majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Global Health Studies. She discovered her passion for anthropology in her Freshman Seminar, “The Anthropology of Violence.” That course spurred a curiosity–one that would resonate till today–about the treatment of women’s bodies and how that affects the way they receive health care. Her thesis explored the use of contraceptives by women in India’s urban and rural areas, which was later expanded into a Fulbright Fellowship to focus on family planning initiatives for HIV-positive women in southern India.

After spending a year in India, she attended medical school at Harvard. Maintaining her passion for global health, she obtained a Master of Public Health. After graduation, she volunteered at the World Health Organization in the Department of HIV/AIDS. She is now an OB/GYN Resident at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University.


Q: How were you able to balance your academic, social and extracurricular involvements during your time as an undergrad?

A: It’s always tough to integrate all of those things, particularly for people with many different interests. To see those interests coming to the fore. Something that I continue to remind myself is that people truly matter. People very much matter. In moments when you don’t know where you’re going with your life or when you’re stressed out or you’re falling behind, I center myself by reaching out to people who matter to me.


Q: Take me through what a normal day is like for you.

A: If I’m on an inpatient rotation, my days will start super early, around 5 or 5:30AM. You have to round on your patients, check on the people who were already admitted into the hospital. Then you get together with your team and talk about any issues that those patients may have. Then you may do work for those patients, go into surgeries, if you’re on labor and delivery, you go deliver babies and take care of those women. If I’m on an outpatient rotation, the days are a little nicer because the hours are more nine-to-five. It’s all clinics and all office work.


Q: How did global health at Northwestern influence you?

A: I think there’s a difference between the global health minor at Northwestern and global health at Northwestern. The minor is a set of classes and a group of students and faculty. It’s built to give you a solid foundation. What I loved most about that experience was that it was very multi-faceted. They did a wonderful job gathering a diverse set of topics, the professors were very knowledgable and they gave us a lot of independence to think. It wasn’t formulaic. It wasn’t boring lectures. They pushed you to think about issues beyond just numbers and facts.

As a result, that influences the way global health is done at Northwestern. You get a lot of creative minds, people who are willing to engage in a variety of discourse and a community. I came out with a group of friends who taught me more than I ever taught them. I still keep a lot of those friendships, and those are still the people I turn to today to discuss global health issues.


Q: What study abroad program did you go on, and what was that experience like for you?

A: I did the Mexico program in 2007. It was the first time I had been out of the country, so it was the first time I was dealing with these issues through the lens of global health and social justice. I approached it like an anthropologist, like an observer. I spent most of my time in Mexico taking in what I was seeing. We took classes, did a little bit of research and visited rural clinic sites. The biggest thing I took away was designing a schema to think about these issues rather than memorizing a bunch of facts and statistics.


Q: How has living close to a city–Chicago for undergrad, Boston for medical school, and now back to Chicago–influenced your education and career?

A: As an undergrad, I grossly underappreciated how much Chicago has to teach us about inequities and public health. I don’t think I was truly analyzing what was happening in Chicago because I was so focused on my interests in other healthcare settings. By the time I moved to Boston, I had solidified my interest in how healthcare systems worked and appreciated Boston in a way that I wasn’t able to do with Chicago. It is a city that deals with a lot of race discrimination and inequality. Now that I’m back in Chicago, it has been really wonderful to explore the city, now ten or eleven years later. Now, I’ve been trying to understand Chicago through a different lens.


Q: Any words of advice for Global Health students at Northwestern?

A: First, to be very flexible in life. Be open to things that happen to you because you will find many beautiful things in paths that you didn’t imagine taking. That is a scary piece of advice to receive, but it is so important. Second, figure out what people mean to you. Understand how you value people and how you work with people. It’s okay to make sacrifices for people you care about.

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