Alumnus Spotlight: Ryan Lion ’15 Takes Global Health Perspective to Med School

February 28, 2017

Alumnus Ryan Lion’s belief that health is a human right inspired him to pursue the Duke Master of Science in Global Health (MSc-GH) program. 

As an undergraduate, Lion, who hails from Palo Alto, California, participated in an ethnographic research opportunity in Senegal evaluating trauma among talibés. Talibés are children that are forced to beg during the day in exchange for a religious education at night. However, if they don’t meet a certain financial quota, they are frequently abused. Lion was impressed by the children’s resilience and knew he wanted to invest more of his education into fighting for social justice. 

Lion focuses his work on promoting equitable access to care. “In global health, I’m most passionate about ensuring that people have access to care and the means to live a healthy lifestyle,” Lion said. “This first requires identifying the barriers to doing so, whether they’re social, cultural, economic, political or otherwise and using evidence-based methods to develop solutions to address them.”

In Fieldwork, Lion’s Time with Patients Was Most Rewarding

Lion completed his fieldwork at a city-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Cape Town, South Africa. The objective of Lion’s study was to explore HIV prevalence, sexual risk behaviors and mental health among methamphetamine users. He worked closely with patients, conducting surveys and interviews that evaluated patients’ needs and access to care.

Lion was most significantly impacted by the time he spent with patients. “Societies across the world often spurn individuals like active drug users, instead of viewing their condition as a health issue,” Lion said. “Their dignity is overlooked, they are no longer seen as human and their suffering is neglected. But witnessing their adversity and needs reminded me that circumstances and behaviors should never deny an individual access to care.”

Lion recently published his MSc-GH thesis, based on his fieldwork research, in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse.

In addition to his high school and graduate fieldwork experience, Lion traveled to Cameroon last summer to conduct community research with a grassroots non-governmental organization. He surveyed community members about water consumption, behaviors and improvements they would like to see with water in their community.

To Lion, DGHI’s Strengths Lie in Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Reflecting on his time at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), Lion expressed his appreciation for the collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of the MSc-GH program. 

“You’re working with colleagues from around the world who have backgrounds across so many disciplines and bring so many different experiences and viewpoints,” he said. “But these differences are the strengths of collaboration. They help you view complex issues in a way that never would have occurred to you.”

From DGHI to Georgetown

Lion is currently studying medicine at Georgetown University, where he’s learning that local health is global health. He’s grateful for his global health experiences and how they enable him to navigate cross-cultural interactions gracefully. “Studying global health has prepared me for these encounters and has taught me how to embrace the challenges of cross-cultural communication with respect to health,” he reflected.

Additionally, Lion feels his global health education has prepared him to ask the right questions in medical school. He considers questions like, “How would treatment be different in the context of another country?” and “What factors are likely to influence positive or negative treatment outcomes?” 

Lion Makes Time for Community Engagement

In addition to juggling a busy medical school schedule, Lion sits on the board of the Georgetown chapter of Physicians for Human Rights, a national organization that uses medicine and science to combat global human rights abuses. 

Through this group, Lion has used his studies in global health and medicine to help refugees from places like Latin American and Central Africa gain asylum status in the United States.  

Summarizing his view of global health, Ryan shared, “Global health isn’t just something you do when you travel to other country, it is truly a unique lens and analytical thought process that can be used in all contexts of health care work.”

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Ryan Lion (third from left), with the team in Cameroon that conducted surveys on water, sanitation and hygiene behaviors and where families' water sources were in the community.

Global health isn’t just something you do when you travel to other country, it is truly a unique lens and analytical thought process that can be used in all contexts of health care work.

Ryan Lion, MSc-GH '15

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