Senior thinks globally, acts medically

BY MEGAN DIAL | MAY 14, 2009 7:32 AM

UI senior Rachel Bender cannot picture where she will be living 10 years from now — and the uncertainty excites her.

Bender, 22, is an international-studies major with an emphasis in global health and Latin American studies. She plans to attend medical school at the UI this fall.

She began her UI career as a biology major, but the sciences alone didn’t spark any real passion in her.

Following a trip to Ecuador at the end of her freshman year, she started to find ways to mix her love of traveling with her biology major. Martha Greer, a program associate in the International Studies Program, suggested global-health studies to Bender, and she hasn’t looked back since.

“With international medicine, I feel like going into it with a primary care background is most helpful because then you have the most broad basis,” the Bellevue, Iowa native said. “Mostly, you just want to be able to help where you’re needed.”

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After her first global-health class, Bender said, she felt she needed to do more at the UI to raise awareness and funds for international health issues.

So in April 2007, she cofounded the UI Global Health Club.

She wanted to have a way to meet with other students on a regular basis to discuss topics and have the opportunity to hold fundraisers, she said.

“The highlights of my past four years, I think, are Global Health Club meetings, where new students come who have never learned about this stuff,” Bender said.

She is interested in Latin American culture, she said, not only because of its prevalence in Iowa City but because she loves how family-oriented the culture is.

But she is not limiting herself to helping one area of the world.

“I’m really open, the more unknown the area, the better right now,” Bender said.

After medical school, she said, she wants to work in other countries, identifying the needs of towns, training local doctors, and providing technology to under-developed communities.

She also said she realizes global-health issues don’t only occur in other nations — she can make a difference locally, too.

“It’s super exciting and fun to travel, but I’m trying to be more realistic and find ways here that I can help,” Bender said.

She volunteers at the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic, 2440 Towncrest Drive. She works with both English- and Spanish-speaking patients who have many different complaints, ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure.

The clinic volunteer coordinator Jonathan Wiese, 26, said she has volunteered consistently over the past year.

“Not only does she do a good job volunteering, she’s got a great personality,” he said.

Greer also marveled at Bender’s dedication to global health.

“I have been blown away by her spirit, her scholarship, and her inclusive nature,” Greer said. “Rachel has given as much to this institution as she will take away from it.”

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