Final Thoughts, Advice & Changes

As these past two months flew by, I was able to achieve many of the goals I had initially set for my internship. On the academic front, I was able to gain great insight and understanding about diabetes and diabetic education in Ethiopia. I was able to obtain both academic and social perspectives on the extent of this chronic illness.

Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic
Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic

Personally, I had set out to understand people as more than patients. I believe that through the many conversations with patients throughout my time at Tikur Anbessa, I was able to see the other factors that affected them beyond the disease. Additionally, I now realize that their current condition isn’t only a result of the diabetes.

Though I only have one year left at Brandies, this experience has allowed me to gain many different assets that will add to my Brandeis career. It will help me choose relevant courses, attend events, etc. that will help me grow in understanding the field of public health in various contexts. Among the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Addis is that everything – every initiative, action plan, program, service, agenda – should be relevant and familiarized to the respective context. Thus, I want to use the rest of my time at Brandeis and beyond to see how different things unravel in different cultures, among different people, and the like. I have increased my desire to draw comparisons and differences among different regions, whether international or local, to understand the greater relationship between cause and effect with respect to health/illness.

During my internship, there were many things that were unexpected – for the better and worse. One piece of advice that I would give to a student interested in an internship is: Be Flexible! Your internship may not necessarily be what you initially imagined – so, being able to be flexible and work with what is before you is essential. Even when initially searching for a internship site, your interest may not always line up exactly so it is important to be able to be flexible to try something that you had not thought of. It is vital that you do not completely forget your interests, just be as accommodating as possible. Continue reading “Final Thoughts, Advice & Changes”

Diabetes: Questionnaires, Seminars, Conversations….at Tikur Anbessa Hospital

Me at the entrance of the Diabetes Center holding questionnaires for patients to complete.
Me at the entrance of the Diabetes Center holding questionnaires for patients to complete.

I have made great progress in achieving the goals I had initially outlined for myself. I better understand the current state of diabetes in Ethiopia. This understanding comes, not only from estimates and health professionals, but from the patients themselves. While conversing with patients and distributing the prepared questionnaire, I have learned a great deal about diabetes as an illness and also the social constructs that have a great role in its management.

In comparison to what I knew before the beginning of my internship, I believe that I have made great progress. Moreover, I have obtained great insight into the field of public heath – what it entails, the extent of its need, and its importance in various fields. I have also, as I had outlined in my initial application, seen the important intersection of public health and education.


I am currently most proud of my progress with the questionnaire. Though my proposal took an unexpectedly long time to get approved by the head department, I already have over 100 completed questionnaires. With each filled questionnaire, there is a unique story.

At the Diabetes Center entrance assisting a patient fill out a questionnaire.
At the Diabetes Center entrance assisting a patient fill out a questionnaire.

It has been a privilege and honor to be able to sit down and hear these stories directly from the patients themselves. Additionally, having a large number of questionnaires will allow me to draw conclusions that are able to be generalized and therefore have a greater impact.

The other great thing I was able to participate in is the EDA’s monthly educational seminar. These seminars help diabetic patients learn about the disease, its complications, and how to manage this chronic illness. These seminars take place last Saturday of every month so I was able to attend the June session. In addition to learning about diabetes and how it affects the heart, I was able to distribute questionnaires to the association’s members. The seminar I attended was much greater than I expected – nearly 80 patients attended.

Skill building often takes place when and where we least expect it. There are certainly times where we are intentionally learning or practicing specific skills that we need in the future. However, I often find myself and am currently building skills that can be applied to various aspects of my future where I least expect it. While talking with the diabetic patients at the clinic or EDA members, I have observed my skills in social interactions become increasingly fine-tuned. I am also becoming more aware of the various factors that are associated with chronic illnesses such as diabetes in Ethiopia that are not medically treatable. Understanding this will allow me to better understand the depth and increasing need for public health as it is the field, I believe, that brings together both medicine and the social needs of the patients. This understanding, without a doubt, will transfer to my future career plans and involvement elsewhere.

Hello from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

My internship, though through the Ethiopian Diabetes Association (EDA), largely takes places at Tikur Anbessa Hospital or Black Lion Hospital. The EDA and its members first provided me with an overview of my tasks both with the Association and at the hospital. The EDA strives to educate and empower individuals with diabetes to understand the illness and its management. The EDA office is found in the heart of Bole, a vibrant sub-city within Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian Diabetes Association  (EDA) building found in the heart of Bole, a sub-city within Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Diabetes Association (EDA) building found in the heart of Bole, a sub-city within Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Though a small community, the individuals within the association make every effort to meet the needs of their members on various levels. The EDA works in cooperation with the hospital, well-known individuals, health centers, doctors, and many others to achieve their goals.

At the end of summer 2012, I decided that I wanted to take my summer internship project on understanding the prevalence of diabetes in developing countries to the next level by doing a case study. I choose Ethiopia, my native country, to conduct my case study. Next, I contacted numerous Ethiopian professors both here in the US and in Ethiopia. I later discovered the EDA when researching additional contacts regarding prospective project. I sent a message to the EDA through their ‘Contact Us’ page and received a response from Misrak, the program manager, who assisted in creating this opportunity. As an intern, my responsibilities are two-fold. First, I observe both at the hospital and EDA office.

Observing and being able to hear first-hand from individuals with diabetes will allow me to understand the unspoken symptoms of this chronic illness. I will be able to hear from patients and their family members stories that are unwritten in medical records and the role that factors that are often unaccounted for such as cultural pressures and family. In addition to observing, I will also be collecting information on diabetics and their diet/nutrition. This information will allow me to focus my scope of interest. I have prepared a questionnaire for patients to complete at the Black Lion Hospital’s Diabetes Clinic.

Tikur Anbessa’s Diabetes Ceneter – This is where I will be spending most of my time talking to patients and distributing questionnaires.
Tikur Anbessa’s Diabetes Center – This is where I will be spending most of my time talking to patients and distributing questionnaires.

My first week was almost nothing that I expected. I had come ready to begin at the hospital and talk to patients. Instead, I found that I had to write a proposal and have it approved by the Department of Internal Medicine Head (the Diabetes Center is under this department) before being allowed to distribute any questionnaires. Additionally, I had to go back and forth to the Dean of Undergraduates office to obtain a letter stating that my internship had been approved and I could begin. These logistical matters took up a great deal of my first week so I wasn’t able to speak with any of the patients at the clinic just yet. On the bright side, the doctors and other people that I spoke with were extremely helpful and understanding.
In addition to learning about diabetes in Ethiopia, which is at the heart of the academic front of my internship, I expect to learn a lot more. Learning may take any form as long as we are willing to accept that there is still much that we can learn from those around us. Thus, I expect to learn from the doctors, nurses, EDA members, patients, and anyone else I may encounter throughout my time here in Ethiopia.