Last year, Julian D’Achille, ’08 MD, MPH, spent four days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with surgeons from across the country performing more than 36 operations, including hernia repairs, cyst removals and breast biopsies.
“The patients were incredibly grateful for what seemed like very minor procedures to us,” he says. “The doctors and nurses eagerly absorbed the knowledge and information that we provided. In turn, they taught us a lot about practicing medicine in an environment where resources are scarce.”
Dr. D’Achille attributes this passion for international health to his global health experiences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Following his first year of medical school, he completed a six-week clinical elective at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa, through the Center for Global Health.
“Looking back on the experience, I realized how challenging the medical environment is in developing countries,” he notes. “Here in the United States, we have virtually everything we need at our fingertips. … The hospital in Tygerberg, South Africa, didn’t have a CT scan, and X-rays were the diagnostic tool of choice.”
Initially, D’Achille wanted to pursue a career in pediatrics, but he quickly became enamored with surgery.
“My experience in South Africa was my first exposure to the operating room. The first minute I stepped into a surgery, it felt like home,” he explains.
D’Achille continued exploring international health as a member of the student group Northwestern University Alliance for International Development (NUAID). He went to Nicaragua as a fourth-year student to set up a primary care clinic and mobile pharmacy. While there, he and his peers performed checkups and exams. They also reinforced clean water practices and sanitation and shared techniques for lifting heavy objects with field workers.
Changing Care through Policy
During his general surgery residency at Tufts Medical Center, Dr. D’Achille gained an appreciation for how public health works. As a result, he enrolled in the Master in Public Health in Health Policy and Management program at Boston University School of Public Health.
“Physicians often complain about the healthcare system and how ‘policy’ impacts their day-to-day activities,” he explains. “It’s not entirely their fault. Medical education focuses primarily on clinical medicine but rarely touches on the healthcare system as a whole. I knew that I wanted to be better prepared for the future and that I wanted to be actively involved in making a change.”
As Dr. D’Achille finishes his residency, he plans to complete a fellowship in plastic surgery and stay involved in health policy.
“I’m excited to move to the next stage of my career,” he says. “Ten years from now, I’ll hopefully be a practicing plastic surgeon in an academic medical setting, teaching and interacting with fellows, residents and medical students. I hope to use my health policy experience to forge relationships with local and state regulatory agencies and to conduct clinical outcomes-based research or quality improvement research, focused primarily on patient safety and adverse event reduction.”