Battling a stomach infection, being woken up at 6:30 a.m. by 15 family members, being admitted to a public hospital, then working an eight-hour day in a different hospital, all in a country over 7,000 miles away, does not sound like the ideal summer for a college student. But for Sehlah Khalid Butt, it was.
Many students stay within the borders of the United States for their senior capstone projects, but biochemistry major Butt wanted her required project to be unique and force her outside of her comfort zone. Being a Pakistan native gave her an advantage.
“I’m from a whole other country…why don’t I show people what healthcare is like in my own country?” Butt asked her academic advisor, research advisor, life coach, and mentor, Dr. William Harrell. Harrell encouraged Butt’s drive to complete her capstone in a place that means so much to her.
On May 30, Sehlah and her family landed in her home country, all together, for the first time in 13 years.
She said her days began at 6:30 a. m., when she was woken up by cousins and other family members living in a joint family household. By 8 a.m. she was signing into her summer internship at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital and Research Centre.
Her days consisted of putting files in order, ensuring patients were tended to, and translating medical documents and records for those who could not read or understand English.
Most of the people living in Pakistan do not speak English, yet their medical documents are recorded as such. Butt’s primary duty was to translate for patients to inform them of their treatment processes and other important information. Between 4 and 5 p. m., her day at the hospital would end, and she would return home.
Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital and Research Centre is the first cancer hospital in Pakistan. It was established by Prime Minister Imran Khan in honor of his late mother, who passed away from cancer at a time when there were no cancer hospitals in the country, forcing her to look for treatment outside the nation’s borders.
In a country where private hospitals get significantly more funding than public hospitals do, Butt was able to experience the gap as both an intern and as a patient. At Shaukat Khanum, cancer treatment bills may be paid for if specific criteria are met.
However, this is not the case at public hospitals. A stomach infection caused by an unacclimated immune system sent Butt to a public hospital to receive treatment. Her public hospital experience gave her the chance to see the chaotic, unsanitary, and overcrowded conditions that were not as apparent in the private hospital in which she worked during the day. Long waiting times, limited conversation with doctors, a reduced supply of beds, and out-of-pocket payments are prominent themes for those admitted to public hospitals in Pakistan.
“My capstone is how to get public and private hospitals onto the same level by bringing in non-government organizations and government funding to help build better hospitals for people in different regions of Pakistan,” Butt said.
“She has a lot of passions,” Harrell added about Butt’s overseas experience. “I just encouraged her to find things that she wanted to do.” He spoke highly of her time there, emphasizing that experiences such as this provide opportunities for students to grow and learn.
When she returned to Maryland in mid-August, Butt jumped right into preparing for her final fall semester at Stevenson University. Butt keeps herself busy, being a biochemistry student, a Resident Assistant, the president of the American Chemistry Society, and a member of both the Muslim Student Association and RISE.
Starting her Stevenson University career in the fall of 2015, Butt was determined to go to medical school. Doctors Without Borders, an organization that brings medical care to over 70 countries around the globe, was always a goal for her. She said it still is a goal, although medical school may be put on hold while she pursues fashion school after completing undergraduate degree in the spring.
“I always have that spark that I want to do something different. I want to learn; I want to improve so that I can help others,” Butt said. “I’m still on that little spark trying to find out what I can do to make the world a better place. Stay tuned!”