Global health, technology and India—three things I am passionate about.
Starting my freshman year at Harvard, I went in with experiences both working with autistic children in Kunming, China and learning to program with Google Computer Science Summer Institute. I wanted to reconcile my interests and harness the ever-growing power and influence of technology to improve and save lives.
I first heard about Raxa EMR on a Harvard email list. It is a healthcare technology nonprofit that is working to create an electronic medical record (EMR) system for Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS), a private hospital in rural India. Over winter break I volunteered for the organization and as I was getting a Skype tour of the hospital, the supervisor casually mentioned it would be cool if I could join them. There. In India.
As awesome as it seemed, I still had to deal with logistics and apply for a grant from school to pursue an independent internship. I was lucky to receive enough money to fund transportation and living expenses for ten weeks in India. Though I still applied for internships at software companies in the states and nonprofits abroad, few were able to combine my interests so well. With some encouragement form my friends, family, and mentors, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and into the real world.
The experience was really different—living in my own apartment and commuting to work every day gave me a glimpse into independence. Doing so in a country so different from my own gave a dose of reality.
It’s not to say I didn’t fall in love with India. In love with autorickshaws that honked their way through the crazy, lane-free traffic. In love with the cows and monkeys that strolled through the roads next to people selling pretty much everything. In love with the sights, sounds, and smells that make India so alive.
The work itself was extremely rewarding. I was presented with a module, or a part, of the EMR system. This would be a mobile application to help community health workers (CHWs) affiliated with the hospital do their job more efficiently, bridging the gap of communication between the villager and the necessary medical care and knowledge.
Community health workers are members elected by the village to serve as a liaison between the 500-700 villagers and the hospital. They check up on each of the villagers four times a month, taking note of the patients with illnesses and giving necessary basic medical care. In the case of an emergency, the CHW will refer the patients to the village sub center or hospital.
Right now it is a purely paper-based system, as it is with much of the hospital. However, this presents inefficiency in record keeping and communication. An electronic system can help organize patients, schedule and structure visits, keep an inventory, and provide resources to educate both the CHW and the villagers. A well-designed user interface can take into account low literacy rates and offline-syncing capacity can alleviate intermittent connectivity. Better communication could also mean better understanding of the demographics of disease in the village.
This summer, I did research into the work of the CHW to design a system that will make the current process more efficient. Here are some pictures from the visit I made to the hospital. I also helped create a basic framework of an application that will server as a basis for the frontend and mapped out the necessary backend for development.
Doing the work itself could be tedious at times, but each bump in the road was another lesson learned. There were times where the dependent software we were trying to modify turned out not to work or debugging the code became a weeklong project. But above all, remember the impact of the work we were doing, the difference we were making, kept me coding every day.
Being in the office environment of Raxa made the experience more exciting. It is a small office with a “start-up feel”. Ten to fifteen interns and full time employees sit together on an eclectic array of chairs, each of which may or may not have enough wheels to properly balance. Yet the creative energy in the room was enough to make things happen.
My coworkers are some of the most amazing people I know. They are exceptionally bright, with illustrious educational backgrounds, but also extremely fun. Connecting to people over tiffin lunches and spontaneous samosa parties and watching Bollywood movies outside work helped me connect to people who inspired me, who helped me learn more about myself and the world.
Overall, this summer was an amazing experience and probably one of the best experiences I have ever had. I am happy I made the choice to try something new and glad it all worked out. If time permits, I would like to continue to contribute to Raxa’s goal.
Hearing stories from my friends, I realize that I am lucky to have such experiences, but I am not the only one. I feel that stepping outside of my comfort zone a bit helped me learn, helped me experience. And if you decide to take that step, no matter how small, you might be able to have the best culinary, occupational, social, and cultural experience ever :)