Our “E’ville Voices” guest blogger series was created to net a broader range of voices about our city in flux and initiate dialogue through opinions, conversation and storytelling. Joining our guest blogger series is 19-year old, recent Emery High senior Priya Bhattacharjee who is now a junior at UC Berkeley. Priya is one of seven students from across the U.S. selected to take part in a 2-month experiential program in India known as the Tata Social Internship. The program is unique in that it allows students from the U.S. to travel to India to spend two months working with Tata companies on various sustainability projects. Priya’s guest piece shares her experience with working alongside biomedical scientists and molecular biology technologists to assess healthcare systems in Kolkata. Tata is one of India’s largest corporations with over half a million employees and a broad array of industries including auto manufacturing, consumer goods and information systems.
Feature Image: Priya stands beside the bust of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group who pioneered many advances in business practices, including introducing maternal benefits to the workplace.
New Perspectives: Lessons Learned from the Familiar
By Priya Bhattacharjee
There are some parts of India that I will never get used to like the staff at the guesthouse insisting on calling me “madam,” waiters physically serving food onto my plate at restaurants, and cars honking incessantly at each other yet waiting patiently for cows. But one aspect that I have grown accustomed to over my past few visits is the degree of infamy of Indian poverty, which is rivaled perhaps only by that of the widespread adoration of its Bollywood movie stars. So when I heard of the Tata Social Internship program, and its aim to address the many needs of the people of India by bringing international perspectives to their sustainability projects, I was instantly intrigued by the opportunity.
I applied to the Tata Social Internship out of a personal interest in global health disparities. I felt that working in India would allow me to better understand the differences in medical care and treatment between developing and developed countries. As a bioengineering student at UC Berkeley, and a resident of Emeryville, CA, I am fascinated by biotechnology – the new face of medicine – that surrounds me in the Bay Area. It is a continually growing and evolving field, spearheaded largely by innovations based in this Northern California region. When I learned that the Tata Social Internship program would assign me to a project that involved working with medical diagnostic devices at the Tata Medical Center, I jumped at the opportunity to combine my passion for bioengineering studies with my interest in cancer care and healthcare in developing countries.
The Tata Medical Center, which opened in 2011, is a hospital located in Kolkata. Upon arrival, I visit their labs, which I saw were equipped with sophisticated instruments and ran tests at high throughput. I met patients who had come from around the world to receive cancer treatment there, and I observed the excellent and compassionate cancer care that the doctors provided to them. The Tata Medical Center was a state-of-the-art institution, and while deeply impressed, I was admittedly, at first, also a little disappointed. This wasn’t the India I had assumed I would see. How would I learn about disparities in healthcare when there were seemingly none for me to experience?
Fortunately my internship at the Tata Medical Center allowed me to realize that this experience was in fact a much more powerful opportunity to work towards actually closing healthcare gaps. I was happy to find that although the hospital is well established and technologically advanced, its focus still lies in making healthcare, and specifically cancer care, accessible to patients around the world. My assigned project exposed me to this reality first hand.
Through the Tata Social Internship program, I was tasked with conducting a study at the hospital that would involve comparing two PCR machines, a type of medical device used for diagnostic tests in the lab. This study was intended to explore methods of reducing costs associated with performing these tests. Mitigating these costs would help provide more accessible and affordable methods for use all over the country and globally. While working at the hospital, I also learned that it houses 167 beds, half of which are reserved for the underprivileged. The hospital itself is a not-for-profit institution and also offers subsidized medical treatment for registered general patients.
When I found out I was accepted into the Tata Social Internship program, I was excited to learn more about medicine in developing countries. I wanted to participate in an international internship program that would provide me with worthwhile opportunities for learning and growing. The Tata Medical Center has definitely given me just that, while also demonstrating how to enable communities by using the existing, available resources and infrastructure. The Tata Medical Center’s dedication to serving communities in need is inspiring and has saved vulnerable lives, even in front of my own eyes. I hope to carry on this dedication in my own life and career as I learn more about health, medicine, and technology in developing countries.