Paging Dr. DiGrazia
Jan. 31, 2013
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When University of Iowa senior women's golfer Gigi DiGrazia received an e-mail about a potential class to take over winter break, she was intrigued. The e-mail kept her attention, until the very last paragraph.
DiGrazia, a health and human physiology major, saw an e-mail appear in her inbox in August about a class called "Diagnosing Diseases." She wants to attend medical school, so this was right up her alley.
DiGrazia read through the e-mail as it discussed the specifics. The class would be worth three credits, offered over three weeks during winter break, and students would be working hands-on with doctors and physicians in diagnosing illnesses and other medical situations.
As she became excited, she read the last paragraph.
The class would take place in India.
"After reading the first part of the e-mail I was extremely interested," DiGrazia said. "After reading the last part, I laughed and thought 'wow, that's pretty far away.'"
As the fall semester continued, she kept hearing more and more about the class. The experience she would receive made her care less about the location.
"I put it aside for a little bit and really didn't know if I wanted to pursue it or not," DiGrazia said. "A gentleman came around to our classes during the fall semester and kept talking about the program. It started to sound more and more interesting."
After a few months of back-and-forth, DiGrazia finally decided to take the trip. Over winter break, DiGrazia, along with other UI students, took a three-week trip to Madurai, India, and were instantly gaining firsthand experience in the medical field.
"We were working in the hospital every day, shadowing different doctors and literally learning about different diseases," DiGrazia said. "We were expected to see a case and come up with our own solutions."
This type of experience isn't readily available to college students in the United States. DiGrazia took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
"It was really great for me," DiGrazia said. "In the United States, it's really hard to get that much clinical exposure because of health and insurance issues. I was able to see things in India that I would never be able to see as a student in the United States."
DiGrazia's focus on the trip was mostly academic, but her group did manage to sneak away for a few sightseeing opportunities. Madurai is known as the "Temple City" and DiGrazia was in awe of the scenery.
"From any rooftop, you could see all seven temples," DiGrazia said. "The temples were extremely beautiful, eloquent and ornate. Each one was lined with individual statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. We also took trips to the mountains and going to the Indian Ocean was a blast."
The scenery was breathtaking, but seeing day-to-day life in a struggling country can be eye-opening for an American college student. DiGrazia brought back a different perspective to the states.
"Culturally, it was so different," DiGrazia said. "I'm grateful for westernized plumbing. It was amazing to see how happy the people were in the city. It's a very communal society; everyone was out playing or working together. No one sits and watches television or plays on their phone. The people don't have much, but they are extremely happy."
Taking a class that involves international travel isn't cheap, but the UI Department of Athletics stepped up and helped one of its student-athletes explore a life-changing learning experience.
"The athletic department really stepped up and helped pay for some of the trip through financial aid," DiGrazia said. "That was really great. It all worked out very well and I'm thankful that Iowa helped me out like that."
DiGrazia didn't take her clubs with to India, but still spent time on improving her game during the trip.
"My goal was to use the trip as more of a mental tune-up for me," DiGrazia said. "I wanted to come into the season with a good, clear mind. The trip really helped me gain focus and perspective on my final season at Iowa. I had so much time to think and reflect on my time at Iowa. Although I didn't pick up a club, I feel like the trip really helped my game."
The trip helped DiGrazia clear her mind for the upcoming golf season, but it also solidified a career choice for the Addison, Ill., native.
"I was a little on the fence about medical school before this trip," DiGrazia said. "I spent most of my time either in the classroom or on the golf course, so I didn't have a lot of time to shadow physicians. To be able to do that for three weeks really showed me what I could be doing and the type of people I could be helping."
After graduation, DiGrazia will take the first step towards becoming a doctor by applying to medical school. Her trip to India, along with her experiences at the UI, might just give her an upper-hand in the application process.
"I've had great professors at the University of Iowa and I know they can help me springboard into my next step of pursuing medical school," DiGrazia said. "This trip gave me so much experience and that will help me when applying for medical school."
DiGrazia hopes to spend her last season at Iowa using her irons and wedges in leading the Hawkeyes to new heights on the course.
Once her last putt drops, she will trade in her driver and putter for a scalpel and stethoscope, hoping to spread medicine to more places like Madurai.
It's a good thing she kept that e-mail.