While our trip to India has a baseline agenda of exposing us to the wide range of health care options and availability in Hyderabad, one of its many goals is to help prepare us and give us the tools for successful global health endeavors in the future. Multiple times over the past few weeks we have talked about, or better stated, Dr. Gopal has imparted his wisdom to us about the concept of “Three Cups of Tea.” This is based off a book that sits on my shelf and I have yet to read after allegations of its truthfulness came out some time back. However its message still rings true, and useful: to establish a real relationship, you have to keep coming back. (“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…”) Building on that, you also have to keep your commitments, and do the things that are asked of you to gain trust and reliance, and to make a real difference.
Every year (save last year when my mom got married and I brought the whole trip down with me) Dr. Gopal travels to Hyderabad and makes an effort to be in touch with each of his contacts, the vast majority of which are now also his close friends. This year he gave two talks at different institutions, both on specific subjects requested based on their needs, and was asked to consult on some specific issues a few hospitals were encountering. Because of these relationships he has foraged, each group of residents that comes is able to benefit greatly from our experience in India and all its health care system has to teach us. Our global health experience here is successful, and with the added dedication of Dr. James, we gain a better understanding of what it takes to do successful global health work in the future.
Thinking forward to my own career, and eventually making some decision as to what it is I am going to do with my life, this three cups of tea concept means a lot. Prior to medical school I wrote a thesis on the ethics of small groups of people traveling to other countries to provide short-term medical care. Now thinking back, for no less than half of the 118 pages I am basically arguing this same thing,. Without long term commitments and continued conversation, you will likely not do any good, and may cause harm. You are also very unlikely to have a successful global health career. While our time here is sadly coming to an end, I look forward to applying these principles to everything I do in the future. When I get home, I also just might finally pull that book off the shelf and give it a try.
As a final note, one of the great things about India is that is covered in chai. Four hours into our first day at Sivananda Rehabilitation Home we were already a family by tea standards.