Versha Patel, a current fourth-year student, was in the midst of a busy interview season. She graciously agreed to sit down for one more interview and reflect on her life experiences with me.
Seeds of Success
Versha explained to me how her background has influenced who she is today. “ I grew up in a very modest upbringing,” she explained. She was raised in a single-parent household where she and her family struggled to make ends meet. However, this experience only served to make her more empathetic and in touch with the realities of other people. “It made me sensitive to the financial constraints of others,” she stated.
“Another thing that was very important to me growing up was my ethnic background,” Versha mentioned. “I always grew up around many different languages, accents, and always had an appreciation for culture and people knowing their culture and being attuned with their history.”
Versha went to the University of Virginia for undergrad where she majored in French and minored in Biology. While she started off pre-med, she changed gears as she developed a budding interest in public health. She became excited about the possibility of working with entire communities on issues that affected both their collective and individual health outcomes.
Healing, Mobilizing, Leading
Continuing on to Yale University to receive a Master’s in Public Health, Versha was selected for the Down’s International Health Fellowship which allowed her to design and implement a project in Mali, West Africa on different social determinants of antiretroviral adherence for HIV/AIDS positive patients. “And that just did it for me,” she said. “I feel in love with sub-Saharan Africa and I was like, I want to go back! I want to go to Mali! This is awesome!”
While continuing her work in Mali remained her primary goal, life had something else in mind for Versha. She was instead offered a fellowship opportunity to work as an HIV/AIDS Program Manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Rwanda. It was there that Versha helped to kick-start and manage the first ever mobile HIV testing unit in the country, which tested thousands of Rwandans for HIV and helped to change national policies regarding counseling and testing.
Both humble and driven, Versha continued to provide HIV/AIDS care in Côte d’Ivoire for two years. “I did a lot of the similar work that I was doing in Rwanda, but more focused on highly vulnerable populations, so I did a lot of work with orphans and vulnerable children, and especially commercial sex workers,” she explained. There, she helped to manage one of the biggest clinics in the region dedicated to the care of sex workers and the treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Although she loved her work in Côte d’Ivoire, Versha had a “nagging feeling” in the back of her mind, calling her to other work. Constantly working with sick individuals and seeing first-hand the suffering caused by HIV/AIDS, she decided to return to the United States and pursue a career in medicine. She completed her pre-med requirements, went through the Georgetown’s GEMS program, and then matriculated to Georgetown University School of Medicine.
Georgetown School of Medicine & HOYA Clinic Coordinator
Even while in medical school, Versha has continued to pursue her passion for socially conscious care through her involvement at Georgetown’s HOYA Clinic, a student-driven free clinic serving the homeless community at D.C. General shelter as well as the greater community of underserved and underinsured.
She explains how medical school can often cloud a student’s ability to remember the purpose of all of the hard work and studying. “There are so many opportunities in medical school to easily forget why you are doing it and Hoya Clinic brought me right back around to that,” she responded. “…You see a patient you have been working with and they got the appointment [and] the care that they needed, that is so satisfying, and also so humbling,” Versha said. “Very, very humbling.”
Versha has never been one for a traditional path. She has decided to pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology, drawn to the field due to her love of primary care, advocacy, and the balance between surgical and medical care. However, she remains open to where the field will take her, be it the inner city or a far-off village.
One thing Versha does know is that, “There is so much to be done!” Wherever her path takes her, her commitment to service and public health will continue to heal and inspire.