Global health focus sharpened in the pandemic

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Olivia Fyre, is a 3rd year student majoring in Global Health Studies and minoring in Religious Studies. She said that her UVA experience has allowed her to think broadly and expand her global research.

Tell us about your global experience at UVA?

Frye: As a Global Public Health major, I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the most inspiring and informative professors about the ways we can be active members of the global community. I also have had the honor to be involved in global research under Dr. Rupa Valdez in the department of Public Health Sciences. Under her leadership, I have worked on a wide range of projects from understanding the challenges of refugee families when interacting with the health system to using social media to understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals living with chronic health conditions.

What sparked your interest in global research?

Frye: Growing up, I always felt like I lived in a bubble. I had never moved out of my small suburban town until I got to UVA. That’s when it felt like I was joining the global community. During my first year, I found that my classes had some global component and encouraged me to think outside of my own personal experiences. It wasn’t until I took Theological Bioethics (I highly recommend this course!) that I knew I had a passion for learning about and learning from the global community. This class helped me to understand the importance of understanding and appreciating other cultures and ways of life. After talking to my professor (Dr. Nichole Flores), she encouraged me to explore opportunities in global research here at UVA.

What are you working on now?

Frye: I have had the unique opportunity to partner with Dr. Rupa Valdez and the SDoHE lab to learn from the experiences of individuals living with a wide range of chronic health conditions during the pandemic through a grant funded by UVA’s Global Infectious Disease Institute. Staring in May, we began to survey academic literature, news articles, blogs, and guidance from professional associations to understand how individuals living with chronic health conditions (CHC) are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as previous pandemics and crises. Through this exploration, we were able to learn how people living with CHC are particularly at risk not only for contracting and experiencing complications from the disease, but also for experiencing negative health-related, economic, and social impacts from the wider policy and societal changes that have been implemented. Along with these discoveries, we were able to gain an understanding about which conditions were most studied during pandemics/disasters to help us to narrow down which conditions to focus on. To gain direct insight about the experiences of individuals living with chronic health conditions during the pandemic, our research team has chosen to analyze Facebook groups and Reddit threads that contain conversations about people’s experiences during the pandemic. I am so grateful to be involved in this research. Not only have I learned so much about the research process, but I have also gained a deeper understanding of the impacts of a chronic health condition on one’s life, especially during a global crisis. Through this research, I have been heartbroken by the stories of inequity and injustice that plague our society and health system. I have learned about the importance of listening to the experiences of individuals to gain the information need to ultimately create a more equitable society.

What has been the most unexpected experience so far?

Frye: Honestly, my whole UVA experience has been a series of pleasant surprises. I think that my most unexpected experience is when I had the honor of becoming a Center for Global Health Scholar. This opportunity allowed me to spend my summer doing research for Dr. Valdez working on her GIDI rapid response COVID grant. This was an amazing experience given the relevance of the topic in all of our lives, and one I was certainly not expecting. Also, through this experience, I was able to meet and interact with students working on a diverse range of topics.

What would be your advice to students interested in gaining global experiences on Grounds?

Frye: My advice for any student who is interested in getting involved with the numerous global experiences on Grounds is to not be afraid to reach out to professors. Especially now, during an age of Zoom classes and video chatting, our professors can seem distant. One thing I learned, is that UVA professors really care about their students and want us to get involved in opportunities that we are interested in. The reason I learned about the Global Public Health major was because I reached out to one of my professors and opened up to her about my interests and goals after college. Even though she was not in the Global Studies department, she insisted that I check out the major and gave me contacts of professors within PHS to contact. Our professors are there to help us and can connect us with the right people!

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