Minal Giri, 1996-1997 Chicago Schweitzer Fellow
When Minal Giri found herself unmoved and drifting in the abstract details of molecular biology and pathophysiology in medical school, she relied on the ideals that had led her to medicine in the first place: “I had a vision of bringing medicine to the people… however, in my own experience, the notion of service, caring for the disadvantaged and underserved, is not well articulated or reinforced during medical training.” When she was, at last, able to integrate her medical knowledge with service to the community, her vision was finally fulfilled.
“Service learning is so important because it teaches professionals to work in interdisciplinary ways, and it teaches humility and a deep sense of caring that comes from interacting with some of the most vulnerable people in our society.” With this understanding, Minal embarked upon her Fellowship project at the Maria Shelter, a homeless women’s shelter on the South Side of Chicago, offering health education workshops on immunizations, nutrition, and asthma. Minal also created a directory of low-cost referrals and services that medical students could use to help the shelter’s patients find additional resources. “I believe that an important way in which healthcare providers and policymakers can better serve and advocate for the underserved is by increasing our knowledge of these populations and of the resources that exist for them.”
The rewards of Minal’s fellowship did not come without hardship. During her initial project, Minal encountered hurdles faced by many Fellows. When it became evident that Minal’s project was not going to prosper within the pre-existing goals of the organization she had chosen, Minal chose not to lose heart but to use the experience to her benefit. “As a Fellow, I realized a crucial lesson about service: be ready and willing to serve in whatever capacity needed. I had learned to ask the agency what they needed, and then be willing to listen to the answers rather than follow my own assumptions or impose my own agenda on an organization. I had to be a good listener in order to serve effectively.” With this new knowledge under her belt, Minal was able to successfully move her project to a new site. “I had learned a very valuable lesson– that a good project can be used as a model and replicated rather than re-invented.”
While Minal found her fellowship year fulfilling, she claims the real rewards of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship have been most evident to her in the years since her project was completed. “…in truth, the Fellowship took on a whole new meaning for me after its completion, years later when I tapped into this vastly experienced network of mentors and was able to turn to them for support and advice. The notion of ‘Fellow for Life’ took on a new dimension of resources and like-minded people committed to a lifetime of service and mentorship.”
Minal’s dedication to the issues of quality healthcare delivery is evident in the work she does today as a general pediatrician in Melrose Park, Illinois. Minal volunteers at a free clinic on Chicago’s West Side and has established the Pediatric Advisory that serves as a launching pad for programs aimed at enhancing the quality of pediatric care in Chicago. Minal is also working to improve healthcare at both the federal and state level through her work with Physicians for Human Rights and The Campaign for Better Health Care, an organization lobbying to pass a bill for universal healthcare in Illinois.