Inspired to end health disparities

Courtesy photo.

On co-op at a government-funded community health center outside of Cape Town, South Africa, Northeastern University student Karla Schumaci helped treat many patients from underserved local townships. She was particularly moved by one patient, an HIV-positive woman and new mother who had been forced to discontinue antiretroviral drug therapy at another clinic due to racial hostility.

The experiential-learning opportunity inspired the fourth-year pharmacy major to pursue a masters of public health degree (MPH) after she graduates from Northeastern.

“After witnessing the health disparities that existed in the townships because of poverty and race, I am motivated to get an MPH so that I can go back abroad and help impoverished people of third-world countries,” Schumaci explained. “There’s so much work that needs to be done there.”

The global experience also inspired Schumaci to become an international co-op ambassador, a new initiative designed to promote the value of working and living abroad.

Schumaci, who became part of the first group of ambassadors this spring, said international co-op gives students a leg up in the job market. “Students interested in going abroad should consider international co-op, regardless of their major,” she said. “If it’s something you want to do, you can make it happen.”

Schumaci’s work at the clinic ranged from primary care to the prevention, testing and treatment of HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis. She also volunteered in the local communities and townships, tutoring high-school students, leading after-school programs for children and working for an animal shelter.

“I gauge the success of my co-op experience on what I contributed more than what I gained,” Schumaci said. “I’d like to go back and continue what I started.”

Earlier this week, Schumaci also shared her co-op experience with a small group of students as part of International Education Week at Northeastern. The event offered a chance for students to learn more about the university’s experiential learning opportunities abroad.

“International co-op is really what you make of it,” she said.