Studying disease in India
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Gigi DiGrazia on the links.
University of Iowa senior women's golfer Gigi DiGrazia was intrigued by an email she received last August for a class offered over winter break called “Diagnosing Diseases.”
DiGrazia, a health and human physiology major, wants to attend medical school, so this was right up her alley. The class would be worth three credits, offered over three weeks during winter break, and students would be working hands-on with doctors and physicians in diagnosing illnesses and other medical situations.
She became excited as she read the email, until she got to the last paragraph; the class would meet in India.
"After reading the first part of the email I was extremely interested," DiGrazia says. "After reading the last part, I laughed and thought 'wow, that's pretty far away.'"
As the fall semester continued and she heard more about the class, the experience she would receive made her care less about the location.
"I put it aside for a little bit and really didn't know if I wanted to pursue it or not," DiGrazia says. "A gentleman came around to our classes during the fall semester and kept talking about the program. It started to sound more and more interesting."
Finally, DiGrazia decided to take the trip and over the break, was one of several UI students who took the three-week trip to Madurai, India, to gain firsthand medical experience.
UI women's golfer Gigi DiGrazia (right) spent three weeks in India studying disease.
"We were working in the hospital every day, shadowing different doctors and learning about different diseases," DiGrazia says. "We were expected to see a case and come up with our own solutions."
This type of experience isn't readily available to U.S. college students at home.
"In the United States, it's really hard to get that much clinical exposure because of health and insurance issues,” she says. “I was able to see things in India that I would never be able to see as a student in the United States."
DiGrazia's focus on the trip was mostly academic, but her group did manage to sneak away for a few sightseeing opportunities. Madurai is known as the "Temple City" and DiGrazia was in awe of the scenery.
"From any rooftop, you could see all seven temples," DiGrazia says. "The temples were extremely beautiful, eloquent and ornate. Each one was lined with individual statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. We also took trips to the mountains and going to the Indian Ocean was a blast."
The scenery was breathtaking, but seeing day-to-day life in a struggling country can be eye opening for an American college student. DiGrazia brought back a different perspective to the states.
"Culturally, it was so different," DiGrazia says. "I'm grateful for westernized plumbing. It was amazing to see how happy the people were in the city. It's a very communal society; everyone was out playing or working together. No one sits and watches television or plays on their phone. The people don't have much, but they are extremely happy."
Taking a class that involves international travel isn't cheap, but the UI Department of Athletics stepped up and helped one of its student-athletes explore a life-changing learning experience.
"The athletic department really stepped up and helped pay for some of the trip through financial aid," DiGrazia says. "That was really great. It all worked out very well and I'm thankful that Iowa helped me out like that."
She didn't take her clubs to India, but still spent time on improving her golf game during the trip.
"My goal was to use the trip as more of a mental tune-up for me," DiGrazia says. "I wanted to come into the season with a good, clear mind. The trip really helped me gain focus and perspective on my final season at Iowa. I had so much time to think and reflect on my time at Iowa. Although I didn't pick up a club, I feel like the trip really helped my game."
The trip helped DiGrazia clear her mind for the upcoming golf season, but it also solidified her decision to apply to medical school.
"I was a little on the fence about medical school before this trip," DiGrazia says. "I spent most of my time either in the classroom or on the golf course, so I didn't have a lot of time to shadow physicians. To be able to do that for three weeks really showed me what I could be doing and the type of people I could be helping."