Annette Dekker graduated from Princeton in 2012 with a degree from the Woodrow Wilson school. While at Princeton, she says that she considered anthropology, sociology, politics, chemistry, and economics. As she explored, she gathered the pieces of each discipline that most interested her. When it came to choose a field at Princeton, she found the Global Health Program to be the composite of all those pieces. “It was incredible to find a field that combined my passion for people and curiosity in medicine in a global context.” She says that GHP gave her the foundation for a career in clinical medicine and the impetus to make a significant impact in the global health arena. “[GHP] taught me the delicate balance of thinking critically about the standard of care with a patience and respect for the context you are in.”
Annette discovered the value of international study while in the GHP program. It started with a lunch lecture by Julie Livingston. Annette stopped in on a whim, wanting to hear about people’s experiences with pain in an oncology ward in Gaborone, Botswana. Julie Lingston’s stories resonated with Annette; later that year, she dedicated her thesis to studying pain relief and palliative care in rural South Africa. She spent the summer before her senior year in the Eastern Cape speaking with Xhosa men and women in the wards of a district-level hospital. The research itself was difficult and inspiring; she says that it kindled a desire for future international health work. However, the experience of studying and living abroad was most valuable for the challenges she faced, conversations she had, and new perspectives she gained outside of research. She highlighted, for example, on conversation with a general surgery resident in South Africa. He told her to focus less on the “next rung of the ladder” (the next step in a journey) and instead find the space between the rungs. These have become words that she lives by. She says that the most meaningful experiences in her educational experience thus far have been the moments she created in the space between the rungs: conducting additional interviews on pain medicine in rural India, writing needs assessments in Belize in her month off, working with advocacy groups for homeless individuals in Chicago, and exploring the city in her days off.
In this vein, she encourages students to stay open to the opportunities and the world around them, soaking in as much as they can in lecture halls and in the field. She emphasized the value of field experience, saying that “what matters is that you are living and breathing in that different environment, providing a tangible context for the theory you learned back in the classroom in Princeton.” The details of what you do are less important.
Today, Annette is a 4th year medical student at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She says that she sees medicine in terms of the fundamental principles she learned in the Global Health Program: intellectual curiosity and humanism. She plans to go into emergency medicine, pursuing the niche in which she believes that her skills and interests will yield the greatest impact. Long term, Annette hopes to create a career that straddles clinic care and global health care delivery in the context of underserved populations.