I, Ayesha Hussain, have an offer to study MS. Narrative Medicine at Columbia University in the City of New York full-time starting in September 2021.
I am an independent researcher and consultant based in Noida, India.
2020, the year that sent the entire world into a lockdown also awakened it to the reality of broken healthcare delivery globally. However, like many people, I too had not been a stranger to this awareness owing to my personal experience of dealing with and recovering from poor mental health.
What is Narrative Medicine?
Through my own experience and work, I was able to see an aspect of the illness and healing experience that goes unattended by both clinical medicine as well as public health in India. In 2019, I learned that the field that actually attends to it has a name, Narrative Medicine, and is a relatively new interdisciplinary niche developed and pioneered at Columbia University.
Narrative Medicine recognizes that illness is an experience, one of many that a person has in their life as opposed to only being a bodily situation that needs to be corrected in clinical medicine and a contributing statistic that needs to be fixed in public health. It aims to reorient healthcare around patient narratives. If I being a service user, could use insights from my own experience to understand stories of other people, experiences of lives being lived real-time by real people, to guide dozens of them to become better advocates for their own mental health, and active and conscious users of mental healthcare services, then imagine what clinicians dealing with dozens of patients daily could do to revolutionize healthcare if they had narrative competency!
Not just that. The way I see it, Narrative Medicine is the key to creating stronger and more compassionate patient, caregiver, and clinician communities that can strengthen each other and the larger healthcare with research and innovation derived from narrative knowledge.
What have I done so far?
I have had the privilege of going to some of the best academic institutions so far because of parents who believe and have made it possible for me to do so, and because of whom I believe in the emancipatory and transformative power of education especially for marginalized communities. I have done my electrical engineering from Jamia Millia Islamia and my Master’s in Business Administration from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University.
I have done well academically, participated in ample extra-curricular, taken many leadership and voluntary initiatives throughout my education, and interned and worked at some of the most highly respected places. My commitment to working for women and children made me work with 300 middle school children through award-winning workshops when I was working as the Chairperson for the Women In Engineering Affinity group for a year during my graduation. I have also worked on the education resource mapping of children as part of winter school work on the Right To Education at IIM Ahmedabad.
I worked as a Digital Consultant after completing my MBA but the experience was only partially intellectually rewarding for me as I wanted my work to have an impact at the grassroots. After recovering from my own mental health crisis, I worked on a product concept for employee mental wellness and was a national finalist at the International Entrepreneurial Challenge held at FMS in the year 2018.
After that I began doing storytelling sessions for children, organizing community events for women and for parents of neurodivergent children through a small school that my mother and I used to run till the beginning of the lockdown and which we had to shut down in March’20. My choices have come at the loss of some material convenience and required moving beyond the convention but have brought me the satisfaction of staying true to the causes and values that I believe in.
Why do I want to pursue this program and what are my future plans?
Being an Indian Muslim woman and hence both a statistical and a non-statistical minority myself I understand first-hand the role of narrative competency in making healthcare more accessible, inclusive, and effective for everyone. I believe that the Narrative Medicine program is tailor made to my aspirations, my emotional and intellectual make-up, and goals for community work. It is also the only program that I had applied to. So, you can imagine how overjoying the selection would have been for me!
I began working in this field two and a half years ago guided by my own experience of recovering from a mental health low after hitting a literal rock bottom in 2017 and realizing, as I said, that health, ill-health, and disease aren’t just a cluster of present or absent symptoms. That these are symptoms of the quality of life as personally experienced in a context.
The period of recovery and the time that followed has been a journey of immense growth for me and have led me to switch careers – from being a digital consultant in a large Indian conglomerate to working on independent projects targeting community mental health, working with youth, women, and kids through storytelling programs, awareness events, open group events, creating multimedia content, podcasting, blogging, and engaging in research and academic writing, as well as collaborating with others on project basis (e.g. study of mental health of frontline healthcare workers of India during the pandemic).
Upon completion of my study, I will be certified to offer narrative programs independently as well as in collaboration in clinical settings to patients as part of supportive care and to the wider public as part of preventive care as well as teach narrative competency to clinicians and other healthcare workers anywhere in the world. It is the only program of its kind in the world today where they are training people to train more people and revolutionize caregiving. Narrative Medicine isn’t just helpful to patients but to clinicians and caregivers who often burnout from their jobs as has also been seen during the pandemic.
My aim is to come back to India and popularize the practice of narrative medicine here through my own practice and teach narrative competency both independently through my own startup and collaboratively with existing institutions of higher education.
How can you help me?
Coming from an Indian middle-class household makes it impossible for me to self-finance the whole of my study and stay in this program which is approximately costing USD 1,31,000. Currently, I am in the process of applying for scholarships and other financial aid for which I am eligible. Some of these are partial and others full. However, my options are limited as my course is interdisciplinary and I do not have a prior clinical degree which some scholarships for public health and related fields require. Some of the scholarships are yet to open but I will need to apply for my visa and put together my funds much earlier than applying and receiving my outcomes for those scholarships. Therefore, I am reaching out to you with an appeal to monetarily contribute to my study and stay fund if you are able and willing to and additionally believe in my convictions.
I have paid the enrollment fee of USD 2000 and I am working on arranging 20% of the remaining on my own. I am hopeful that if I’m able to find enough people willing to contribute to my study and stay fund, then I will be able to arrange for the remaining 80% as well. When I thought of making a crowdfunding appeal, I estimated that if I could find 1045 people willing to contribute USD 100 each then I would be able to reach my goal. However, no amount is small and I leave it up to you to decide how much you would like to contribute. At the end of this appeal, is a detailed breakup of the total budget for your reference. In the scenario that I am able to arrange my funds fully through scholarships or other financial aid, I will return your contribution to you. Additionally, or if you are not in a position to contribute, it would be a great help if you can share my appeal with relevant people in your network who you think might be willing to support my education.
Thank you for your help!
I really appreciate it and promise to keep paying forward.
In case you have any queries please feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Program Fee (A)||$ 92, 306|
|Living and maintenance (B)||$ 38,500|
|Total Programme Cost (C = A + B)||$ 1,30,806|
|Arranging on my own (D)||$ 26,140|
|Required amount (E = C - D)||$ 1,04,562|