As a child, Andrea Orji at all times liked it when her grandpa would go to from Nigeria. He would share tales about his residence to show Orji, a Texas native, about her household’s heritage.
But whereas she and her household attended college and work, her grandpa remained at the home, incessantly alone. She may inform he longed to return to the familiarity of his personal nation, but he remained to be able to endure after which get better from cataract surgical procedure. Later on, therapy for different situations would require him to journey forwards and backwards for months at a time. Despite the inconvenience, the high quality of care in Texas was higher than what was obtainable to him in Nigeria.
Orji observed visits by a lot of her different Nigerian kinfolk additionally coincided with medical procedures. Why was it higher for her relations to fly midway round the world for a essential surgical procedure? The query weighed closely on Orji’s thoughts.
As she started making use of to schools, Orji determined that she wished to check biomedical engineering to be able to create extra reasonably priced, globally obtainable medical gadgets and procedures. Unlike her three older siblings, who selected to remain in Texas, Orji hoped to attend school out of state. She additionally knew she wished to journey internationally and finally dwell and work in Nigeria. “It was important for me to get out of my comfort zone and think about how I would deal with settling somewhere completely new,” she says.
The search ended when Orji discovered MIT. Its worldwide training program, the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), offered loads of alternatives for her to discover her curiosity in working abroad. While there have been no applications obtainable in Nigeria, Orji says she was amazed at the number of locations the place she may research and discover future careers.
Orji is now a senior learning chemical engineering with a spotlight in biomedical purposes and pursuits in global health. She has studied and labored overseas in Brazil, South Africa, and India, and credit these global experiences for giving her new views on her Nigerian roots, whereas additionally educating her new solutions to sort out ever-pressing global health challenges.
During her third yr, Orji labored by means of MISTI Global Teaching Lab to introduce biology and chemistry labs to an all-girls summer time program in Brazil. While the journey was a far distance from Nigeria, Orji discovered herself discovering features of West African historical past. “At the time, I didn’t know that Brazil has such a large Afro-Brazilian population. Many of Brazil’s traditions, such as Carnival, are actually influenced by Afro-Brazilian music and costumes,” she says. “It got me thinking more about Black populations around the world and the different ways I can serve them.”
Later that very same yr, Orji traveled by means of MISTI to Hyderabad, India, and carried out public health analysis at a neighborhood hospital, LV Prasad Eye Institute. She witnessed firsthand how health disparities differ between areas in a rustic. While Orji explored India with contemporary eyes, Nigeria was nonetheless on her thoughts. “I kept thinking about the influence of colonialism on both countries and how they have similar decentralized health care systems,” she says. “It led me to wonder if the methods used by LVPEI’s hospitals to improve accessibility could also be applied in Nigeria.”
Her concept to implement health solutions between international locations was reaffirmed all through her internship. “The physician I shadowed would collaborate with other doctors to ensure interactions with patients were respectful of the patients’ culture, language, and religion,” she explains. “This is something we still struggle with in America. But at LVPEI, accommodating for patient differences is seamlessly engrained in hospital practice. I think these teachings could be applied everywhere.”
The journey had an enduring impression on Orji; she switched gears and have become sure she additionally wished to be a physician. “At the end of a full day of seeing patients, sometimes I’d tear up. The way the hospital prioritized care for everyone, regardless of income or background, was mind-blowing to me. They managed to combine all the things I had been thinking about. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”
While the pandemic has paused Orji’s worldwide travels, she has continued to check health disparities exterior of her group, by means of a distant internship serving to to digitize contact-tracing in Navajo Nation, which has been hit with a disproportionate number of Covid-19 instances. Since final summer time, Orji has been a part of a staff working to implement a contact-tracing app; her function consists of serving to to bridge the communication hole between the app improvement staff and native health care staff.
“A lot of failings happen when you don’t adapt the technology to consider its users. For example, the app would ask the user if they had been in contact with someone at a hotel, even if there were no hotels in the area,” she says. “Any time saved on the app was critical for contact tracers, who often had many other responsibilities. We had to really understand the local population so the app could be efficient for both users and researchers.”
Orji additionally credit her favourite class, 10.495 (Molecular Design and Bioprocess Development of Immunotherapies), for educating her about the right way to adapt medical improvements to native communities. “We studied the complications that come from translating technologies created in higher-income countries to lower-income countries,” she says. “I loved how it taught process design while also considering political challenges that I had struggled to incorporate from my minor classes, such as Africa and the Politics of Knowledge. I think that understanding the disparities in a system can help physicians advocate for their patients better.”
Orji additionally likes to discover the world by means of dance. Since arriving to MIT, she has been a dancer and choreographer for Sakata Afrique, an Afro-Caribbean dance group. Dancing has not solely launched Orji to different college students from Africa and its diasporas but in addition expanded her information of different African cultures. “Each region has its own unique moves, so I love to create with other members and bring their ideas together into one dance,” she says.
With commencement shortly approaching, Orji has cemented her resolution to turn out to be a physician by making use of to medical college. She believes her engineering background might be instrumental to her work as a doctor. “I’m glad that I took the engineering route, because I’ve learned a lot of different ways of thinking from doing it. I can understand the technology that lies beneath the public policy.”
Orji nonetheless plans on someday residing in Nigeria however chooses to not focus her future solely on one nation. “My experiences abroad have taught me that there’s so much to learn from different countries that could be applied elsewhere. No matter where I end up physically living, I want to be part of a global network of doctors that believes in the power of collaboration,” she says.
“As we’ve seen with Covid-19, we live in a globalized world where disease doesn’t stop at borders. Solutions shouldn’t either.”