Service-Minded: Working in India, Mallika Rao Faces the Challenges of Health Care

Spending the summer in an old bus may not sound like the ideal internship, but through the PoornaSudha Cancer Foundation, Austin, TX, native Mallika Rao ’20 was able to pursue her passion for health care by helping to provide free mammogram services throughout South India.

While staying with her grandparents who reside in India, Rao worked out of the MOM Express, a bus that had been converted into a mobile mammogram unit so that the medical team could travel easily from village to village. The bus was divided into three sections to accommodate the crew, a mammography unit where scans were done, and a patient area for taking medical histories and processing patient information.

“The program was founded by an oncologist and his family,” Rao explains. “They had a practice in New Jersey for years, but they wanted to give back to the community, and a specific community that influenced their lives was in South India. They wanted to find out how to provide health care, specifically mammograms, to women in rural India because many people there don’t have access to scans and proper preliminary medical care.”

The opportunity to work in India presented Rao with the reality of health care challenges that others face around the world. “First, we would go out to the village and meet the people. The women would then come into the bus and we would ask them about their medical history. It was kind of hard, because a lot of them have had little to no health care and many don’t understand the concept of keeping a medical record,” Rao explains. “Depending on how many people there were, my job would vary. Sometimes they needed me to work on patients’ medical histories, but on slower days I was able to perform the scans. My job consisted of a lot of patient care and making these women feel comfortable.”

Back at Rhodes, Rao, a neuroscience major, is busy with classes, works as a biology lab teaching assistant, and is a leader on the women’s lacrosse team (she’s a goalie; last year’s team made it into the Sweet Sixteen in their third straight NCAA Championship appearance.) But Rao says her summer experience pushed her to improve on useful life skills that she can apply during her time at Rhodes and beyond. “I definitely gained a better knowledge about cancer and its effects on peoples’ lives. But, I also improved my social skills through constant human interaction, and learned how to think more on my feet,” says Rao. “My deeper understanding of patient-physician interactions and remembering the great need for health care education will definitely define how I approach my future at Rhodes and beyond.”

by Ellie Johnson '20