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For Joy Anglin, service and medicine combine in Zimbabwe

Joy Anglin, who has always wanted to be a doctor and has always wanted to go to Africa, flew to Zimbabwe in January to take up residence in a mud hut.

Until June she will live with several families, some urban, some rural, as a participant in an intensive semester abroad program. Whitman offers the program in affiliation with Pitzer College to give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in African culture and learn about its society, development, history, and literature.

A biology major, Anglin hopes to spend the last six weeks of her stay volunteering at a hospital in Chikombedzi in southern Zimbabwe. “Eventually I want to go into foreign medical service — this is a way to get a little experience,” she said.

A family tradition

Service has always been a part of Anglin’s life. Her father is a Quaker minister who does free counseling, her cousin is in the Peace Corps, and another cousin works for World Relief in Africa. Her uncle is the director of missions in Africa for the Free Methodist Church. Her “adopted” grandfather is a missionary doctor in Africa, and her mother lived there for about a year. Because of their experience and the semester abroad program’s orientation, Anglin anticipated some of the customs she would need to adapt to.

“I have to remember to use only my right hand to eat and shake hands — the left hand is considered dirty. Women sit on the floor and men sit in chairs; men speak, women don’t,” said Anglin before she left campus. However, the Zimbabweans “do give you a little grace because they understand you’re from a different culture.”

One concern for Anglin, especially since she will be working in a hospital, is the threat of AIDS. “Almost half the population is HIV positive,” she said, but hospitals take strict precautions to protect staff, and her enthusiasm for the job outweighs her concern.

“I want to help people in the world. My grandfather went to Rwanda after the massacres to help rebuild the hospitals. I heard the stories and saw the pictures and I wanted to help,” said Anglin, who sees herself in 20 years working at a hospital in Africa or Mexico, or as part of Northwest Medical Teams. “Or, I could see myself working in migrant camps like those near my home in Woodburn, Washington, giving free services. I want to be able to support myself, but I don’t feel the need to make a lot of money.” Anglin said she is just like many young people today. “My picture of my generation is that people are interested in serving. Some are working on changing environmental policy, others are helping people. A lot of people care. It’s not a generation that feels it just needs to make money.”

Experimenting in medical research

Anglin’s experience with the medical profession began when she was still in high school. Awarded an apprenticeship in science and engineering at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, she spent three years’ worth of summers and school breaks assisting in research on uveitis, which is much like arthritis of the eye. Then, as a Whitman sophomore, she was awarded an American Heart Association Fellowship to spend the summer working with scientist Virginia Brooks at OHSU.

Brooks studies blood pressure during pregnancy, said Anglin. “The sympathetic nervous system is elevated when you’re pregnant, and if you hemorrhage, the body can’t maintain blood pressure.” This is mainly a problem in third-world countries, where it is one of the main causes of death during pregnancy.

Participating in research using rats, Anglin uncovered one of the factors that contribute to high blood pressure during pregnancy. “The next question,” she said, is “why that happens.”

Not only did Anglin find the research interesting, she is first author on a medical abstract submitted for presentation at a conference later this year.

The summer work was interesting, said Anglin, and she briefly thought about pursuing research as a career. “But it’s too lonely. I’m a people person. I’m going to take a year off after graduation to decide if being a doctor is really what I want to do, but I think that’s the direction I’m heading.”

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