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Students from University of Pennsylvania – Sindhuri Nandhakumar, Samuel Ware, and Christina Wu on a Summer Internship in 2012

Question: What did you do as a volunteer with Aravind?
Christina: My main project this summer was to study how to optimize patient flow in the retina clinic, one of the busiest clinics in the Aravind system. Because of the complexities involved in this specialty clinic, the retina clinic does not work in the same way that the cataract clinics do. In order to carry out my project successfully, I had to become part of the clinic team. I bonded with the sisters by working side-by-side with them at the hectic front desk every day for about a monthsometimes, even in a sari-land they took me in as one of them. I learned that the key was to strike a balance between efficiency and compassionate care, the underlying principle of how Aravind operates. While my project focused on hospital management, I had the opportunity to gain a broader view of Aravind’s functions and activities by visiting eye camps and shadowing countless surgeries in the operating theater. By being in such close proximity to doctors and patients, I inevitably became attracted to the clinical side of things as well. I found myself seriously rethinking my career goals. I felt so inspired by the Aravind doctors hard-working attitudes and wholehearted commitment to the mission of the organization to eliminate needless blindness.

Question: What was the most rewarding part of working with Aravind?
Sindhuri: Working at Aravind has been a wonderful experience. The story of Dr. V, the founder of Aravind, always moves me to think of ways in which I can stop complaining and start doing. I have picked up so many skills that will be very useful in whatever I do: intense commitment and a stronger appreciation for hard work, humility and the importance of friends and family. The one concept at Aravind that I find very inspiring is the idea of work as being the service you do to your community. I have always struggled with the idea of working at a job that doesn't fully satisfy me, but then salvaging my mental health by volunteering after work. But Aravind taught me that it doesn't have to be a trade-off - that I can have both, simultaneously. When I came to Aravind, I was stunned by the humility, simplicity and dedication I saw. As I move on to other experiences and places that may not be the same, I take a little bit of Aravind with me: a reminder to be more humble, simple, and dedicated.

Question: What was your most memorable moment at Aravind?
Sam: One of my fondest memories from this summer was Dr. V Day the annual half memorial-half celebration of Aravind’s founder. It started as another typical day at Aravind thousands of patients screened and hundreds of surgeries conducted. Nothing was extraordinary except for the main room in the expansive Dr. Venkataswamy Eye Research Institute -- people from across the hospital streamed in. Multi-hued saris filled the seats, and doctors hustled in after seeing their last patients. I sat towards the back with Sindhu and Christina (my fellow Penn interns), which offered us a view of the entire ceremony although admittedly, I couldn’t understand all the speakers Tamil. However, I needed no translator to observe how the concise ceremony embodied Dr. V’s dream and values. No superfluous details, pomp nor self-congratulatory speeches would be observed or heard. That was neither how Dr. V lived nor how he would be memorialized. Instead he spoke by actions, dedicating his lifes work to preventing needless blindness, achieving best-practice driven outcomes that far surpassed initial doubters. Likewise, his memorial service was concise and straight-forward, yet still managed to be a moving memorial to Dr. V. It was all over after a 10 minute video produced by Sindhu, a speech, silent prayer and three songs. Everyone pushed back their chairs, found their sandals and left. Nothing more was needed to be said while so much remained to be accomplished by the organization tasked with eradicating needless blindness.

Question: What was the most valuable part of your experience with Aravind?
Christina: The most valuable part of my time in India lies in the relationships I created with people I worked with and the people I met while traveling. In India, I learned to let go and to live in the moment, and, in doing so, was taken in by so many people that I met along my journey. I also realized I needed to be more independent and to not depend on others, including my fellow Tamil-speaking intern, to get around. I learned to assert myself using my rudimentary Tamil, accompanied by hand gestures and the occasional Indian head bob. By the end of my trip, I was totally comfortable with being on my own in Mumbai before heading back to the fears of the monsoon, getting around by myself, or not having a cell phone! Now that I am back at the University of Pennsylvania, I am enrolled in a healthcare management class in Wharton, and I am finding that every single thing I have learned in that class I have been able to relate back to something I saw or learned at Aravind. When I mentioned to my professor that I had spent the summer working at an eye hospital in India, he exclaimed in surprise, Dont tell me you worked at Aravind! He kept asking how I had received such an invaluable opportunity, and I felt so fortunate that I was able to do something abroad that is highly recognized here in the U.S. I hope to use my experience this summer to build my undergraduate thesis, in which I may compare Aravind to other hospitals in India providing low-cost, high-volume care. I have returned to Penn with much more direction and a stronger conviction towards pursuing a career in medicine and expanding access to all who need it and I truly cannot thank Aravind and enough for this.

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