By Wendy Sarubbi | March 7, 2016 12:19 pm

Nicole Spitzer, a second-year medical student passionate about global health, was among 50 collegiate advocates who lobbied in Washington recently for increased funding to fight neglected tropical diseases that devastate developing countries.

She was one of only three medical students in attendance, after helping lead the College of Medicine’s 2016 Global Health Conference devoted to neglected tropical disease. There, about 200 medical, nursing, and public health students and faculty from across Florida and as far away as Brazil learned about such diseases and donated $1,300 in proceeds from the event to END7, a nonprofit group that raises money to eradicate the top seven neglected tropical diseases in the world. Thanks to donations from giant pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit groups are able to provide care to an individual for just 50 cents a year, meaning the med school’s donation helped 2,600 people.

END7 and other non-profits sponsored the lobbying day after President Obama this year cut U.S. spending for their efforts by 13.5 percent. They set up competitive travel scholarships to health professional students across the country and Spitzer was one of those who earned the scholarship.

The student lobbyists visited with global health leaders, including Barbara Bush, daughter of former President George W. Bush, who is CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps. They also formed interdisciplinary groups to lobby lawmakers, especially from their own states. Spitzer led meetings with the legislative assistants of two Florida congressmen – Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Alan Grayson. When Spitzer introduced herself to Grayson staffers as a student from the UCF College of Medicine, she was delighted when someone in the office responded, “Go Knights!” She said congressional staff members’ interest in and awareness of tropical diseases had been heightened by the latest Zika outbreak.

“It was awesome to be able to represent UCF on a bigger scale. My message to lawmakers was that we all say we want to help people. But helping people means all people, regardless of where they’re from,” she said. “We’re all here because we believe health is a human right.”

Spitzer was born in Ocala and did her undergraduate work at Florida State, where she was also accepted into medical school. She said she chose UCF’s new program after hearing Dean Deborah German’s talk at interview day about the college’s pioneering spirit. “Dr. German was talking about dreams and I told my mom it was like she was talking directly to me,” Spitzer said.

Global health has always been one of Spitzer’s passions – she served on a medical mission trip to Jamaica during her undergraduate studies and has since been to Trinidad. She has been active with the College of Medicine’s MedPACt (Medical Students Providing Across Continents) program and last summer participated in a weeklong UCF medical missionary trip to the Dominican Republic. She says she was particularly moved by a small, skinny boy who came to the one of the College of Medicine’s makeshift clinics for care. She thought he was 10. He was actually 14. Lack of nutrition and infection with easily treatable parasites had emaciated the youngster and would impact his health for life. “It makes me upset and a nervous wreck to talk about it,” she said. “Why am I able to be healthy and to grow up and study in this wonderful community and these kids can’t?”

She hopes to specialize in pediatrics and after residency and fellowship training, serve for a time overseas. Even after starting her own practice, Spitzer says she wants to spend a month every year caring for the world’s poor. She says her advocacy in Washington reminded her why she came to medical school and says lobbying with students specializing in research and public policy gave her new perspectives on diseases that plague the world. “My work with global health has been life-changing,” she said. “It has taught me how much you can give to someone by giving just a little. Hope. Faith. The idea that we’re here to listen and we care.”

Post Tags

Related Stories