Looking Beyond Your Neighborhood

Renisa Ramnath ’22. Photo by Kurt Wehde

“I’ve always been interested in medicine,” says third-year medical student Renisa Ramnath ’22. “There are a few doctors in my family and watching them in their careers while I was growing up was an inspiration.” A family history of heart disease gave her insight into the relationships her relatives developed with their doctors; something she found equally inspiring. 

As an undergraduate in Texas, the Trinidad and Tobago native became interested in global health issues—traveling annually on short medical service trips to Honduras and Nicaragua with her school’s chapter of Global Brigades. Dartmouth was her first choice for medical school—not because she had spent time in Northern New England, but because the school seemed to be a good fit for her career aspirations. 

“Geisel was my first interview and I liked how similar it was to Rice, where I went for undergrad,” she recalls. “Because of how small and tight the community is, I felt I could get to know people intimately and develop really strong friendships. And there were more opportunities to get involved in student volunteer activities because of the nature and size of the community.” 

During her interview Ramnath learned about Project Salud, a student-run mobile clinic that partners with Vermont family physician Stephen Genereaux MED ’87 to provide medical screening and care to migrant workers in New Hampshire and Vermont. Because of her interest in global health, Ramnath knew she would become involved and has been since her first year at Geisel. 

Often overlooked, migrant workers live alone, travel alone, work in isolated areas, may not be able to leave the farm when not working, and are far from their families—all contributing to a lack of community. To help create a sense of community, Ramanth says Project Salud organizes community activities, such as a pre-COVID-19 soccer game at one of the farms where everyone also shared food and talked; and a lunch meeting where they invited a patient from one of the farms to share his story. “Community connection is vital because many workers struggle with depression and related issues and talking with people who recognize their struggle is therapeutic,” she says. “When we next saw them in clinic, we were able to ask them about their families back home.” 

Ramnath notes what students learn from working with this population can be carried over to working with other populations—struggling with issues of transportation, the cost of care, and other social determinants of health are not unique to migrant farmworkers and working through interpreters with patients who speak a different language is beneficial. “When I was on my OB rotation at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, which has a large Spanish-speaking patient population, I was comfortable and better able to use their interpreter service because of my involvement with Project Salud.” 

Her experience changed Ramnath’s perspective of medical care. 

“I thought of the U.S. as a place with many great resources, and while I knew not everyone had equal access to them, I didn’t know the disparity was so striking,” she says. “As someone interested in global health, who tended to look outside of the borders of where I was to participate in projects abroad, the issue of migrant health in the Upper Valley is a really good example of a global health problem. You don’t need to look beyond your neighborhood in order to make a difference.”