Interview by Layla Hussein
The Ohio Teen Revolutionizing the Healthcare System
Amid these troubling times, she is making sure all individuals have equal access to opportunities in medicine.
While the pandemic brought uncertainty and trepidation for teens transitioning to remote learning, 18-year-old Akhila Boda worked to ensure that marginalized groups did not have to worry about their opportunities in healthcare. As she involved herself in rigorous camps and expanded her leadership and communication skills throughout the summer, Akhila founded Medvocate, an organization for teens nationwide to connect with professionals in the healthcare industry and gain access to opportunities and mentorship. This virtual setting allows teens—regardless of their racial and socio-economic background—to view a career in medicine as a reality.
As a feminist with a South Asian background, Akhila works to increase representation for women of color in fields that are often dominated by men. Here she discusses personal anecdotes surrounding women’s rights, as well as her projects along with Medvocate to address the underrepresentation of women of color.
// Can you tell me about your childhood and what it was like being a woman and a gender-expansive person in your town?
The first three years of my life I grew up in India with my grandparents, and I moved to America when I was four years old. Ever since then, I grew up here, but periodically I would go back for family marriages or regular visits. Every time I visited, I noticed the differences in what children face in India. There is a lot of poverty and child labor, with a lot of girls being out of school. Just seeing that made me want to do something very early on. Around high school was when I joined Girl Up, a UN Foundation campaign, and through their initiatives by leading a club at my school, we raised around $12, 000 dollars and put 120 girls back into school. Some of those girls were from India, and the Journey has made me more cognizant of the issues there and how I can help.
// What is your proudest accomplishment?
Being able to start an organization on my own and having no experience starting a non-profit has been an interesting experience. I had to find a lot of mentors who could guide me along the way and evaluate where it was better to create a non-profit from scratch or get a fiscal sponsor. Our organization has only existed for about five months, and we’ve grown to have 2000+ Slack community members in the Medvocate. I never thought this would happen, but it just shows that even in difficult times, people are willing to come together and help one another.
// Why exactly did you create Medvocate?
My main reason was that I attended a program called Brain Turns over the summer, and the program was hosted by a hospital. There were top-notch neurosurgeons and the lectures they created were so helpful, and I realized that when the program comes to an end in August, there would be no way for these students to continue to be exposed to medicine, especially with the coronavirus limiting the available opportunities for people to attend hospitals, shadow, and volunteer. I also realized that pre-med students tend to compete with one another because it is becoming increasingly difficult to get into medical school. I really just wanted a community where everyone doesn’t feel pressured to be exposed to opportunities. The way Medvocate works is it’s an online community through Slack, and we have various ways of offering students opportunities. We tend to do virtual shadowing and organize speaker panels. We also had many medical students come and share their experiences, and I think the main reason I wanted to do something like this was that in high school, I would always struggle to approach doctors because they were so busy. Through Medvocate, we’ve been able to address that.
Image retrieved from The Colombus Dispatch
// What future visions do you have for Medvocate?
Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time was a mentorship program. While we do organize virtual speaker panels, after the event is over, it can be difficult for students to reach out to these professionals again and maintain a relationship given their time schedules. It can also be hard to set up a mentorship program when medical students are very busy, but we’ve been working to find medical students who are willing to spend a couple of hours each month with us. Not only can they provide their advice, but these students who are in undergrad and high school can ask any questions and truly decide if a career in medicine is for them. Another vision Medvocate has is offering volunteer opportunities. We are trying to partner with volunteering programs and provide a unique opportunity for our members.
// What advice do you have for people who want to start their own organization but don’t know where to start?
I was listening to an event and two girls said something that sticks with me today, which is to combine your talent and your passion and grow into what you envision. For me, I’m passionate about providing a community for students. My talent was having leadership experience in the past, and combining these two was how Medvocate was born. So by combining your talents and passions, there is no limit to what you can create.
// What do you see yourself doing in the future that will make an impact on the world?
My ultimate goal is to become a doctor, but through that, I also want to combine all of the passions that I’ve mentioned. I am an advocate for gender equality, and on my trips to India, I have noticed that it’s really hard for people—especially in impoverished areas—to have access to healthcare. I want to eventually join organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which go around the world and treat patients in settings where people cannot afford healthcare and are close to dying. I want to join those initiatives and be sure that girls in those settings have access to education. The longer that girls in school are less likely that they are married early, and they are also able to contribute back to society. - GGH