By Devika Chandramohan, Volunteer

If there is one word that can describe Kara Faktor, this year’s keynote speaker at the Annual Latin American Studies Symposium at Birmingham Southern College, it is passion. She found her passion early in life, finding herself drawn towards physiology and medicine. She was able to pursue her interest in medicine during her undergraduate studies when she volunteered overseas with her friends through Global Brigades. Global Brigades is an international non-profit organization that pairs university student volunteers with teams of professionals in underprivileged and under-resourced countries to develop better standards of living. The projects are multifaceted, with teams working on dentistry, micro-finance, water, human rights, and more. Kara worked with the medicine brigade; having found it a rewarding experience, she decided to start a chapter at her own college, Brandeis University, and served as the chapter president until she graduated.

In 2014, she was selected as a Fulbright Scholar, which provided her with a grant to conduct a personally designed project abroad. She focused her work in Honduras through Global Brigades, with the aim of analyzing the effects of programs and organizations like Global Brigades, which bring foreign health professionals into developing nations, on these host countries. She interviewed around 100 nurses and physicians in Honduras and surveyed them on their experiences with Global Brigades and other non-profit organizations. While the assistance was greatly appreciated by the local professionals, she found several areas for improvement. Many of the local team members found that some American doctors were not prepared well enough to work in the conditions they faced in Honduras. Coming from a country with plentiful resources like the United States, they were not capable of conducting their medical practices in less conventional settings, such as school buildings without proper equipment and resources.

Kara also discovered the importance of understanding the patients’ stories, backgrounds, and cultural relevance. Some patients could only seek medical care twice a year due to limited access. They would request medicine even when they had no symptoms due to the fear of getting sick with no medicine or medical care facilities available. Though not a native speaker, Kara majored in Spanish, along with neuroscience and biology, and translated for doctors. Through her work as a translator, she observed first-hand the difference made when doctors simply attempted to speak Spanish and connect with the patients on a more personal level. It established a higher degree of trust and emphasized the humanistic element of medicine.

During her time in Honduras, Kara met Charlotte Ford, a professor at Birmingham Southern College and a fellow Fulbright Scholar. Impressed by her work, Dr. Ford told her colleague Barbara Domcekova, a Spanish professor who heads the symposium, about the young woman. Kara was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 24th Annual Symposium in April 2016. In her talk titled “Foreign Medical Aid from an In-Country Perspective: Beneficial or Detrimental?”, she spoke about her research and findings from her Fulbright studies. The experience was invaluable and gave her a platform to spread awareness about the work she had been conducting in the previous year.

Now, Kara is a second-year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is continuing to commit her time to work overseas. This past summer, she just traveled to Maputo, Mozambique with a group of health professionals for the Short-Term Training Program in Global Health Research and studied steroid resistance in pediatric nephrotic syndrome. Her advice for aspiring medical students is “find your passion. Everyone in my classes now all have different activities they were involved in, and everyone is passionate about something.”

For Kara, her passion is deeply rooted in working with the underserved populations of our international community and using medicine as a means by which to give back to society, an honorable passion and one in which she has proven to be fully dedicated. We wish her all the best with her future as a physician and global health practitioner.

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