Each year the Schwarzman Scholarship, hailed as “the Rhodes Scholarship of the 21st Century,” selects 150 scholars for a fully-funded Masters of Arts in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University, the No. 1 ranked university in China. Honorees are “high caliber individuals with limitless potential” selected based on “leadership, exemplary character and commitment to advancing global progress.”
Nick Peoples, a third-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine, was recently selected for the Schwarzman Class of 2023 – 2024. We caught up with him to learn more about his next steps.
What are your goals for this program?
You know, I’ve been asking myself that same question! The Schwarzman Scholarship is an opportunity that has a million different opportunities within it, like those Russian nesting dolls. You can’t pick wrong, but how do you optimize what you can do with such a unique experience?
In broad strokes, I hope that it will add a new vantage point for my work in medicine and public health – one that will help me approach systemic problems more creatively.
As different as my past experiences have been – from working for grassroots organizations in Malawi and Nepal to training at Texas Children’s Hospital – a common thread has been realizing that the biggest problems in medicine are not medical. They are financial, organizational, politico-economical and social. I would even toss in historical, for good measure. A major bottleneck for improving our health system is that there are not enough physicians living in these other spaces. We are quick to identify the fault lines in our health system but often not empowered to fix them. This leaves many of us frustrated and shaking our collective fists in the air while the status quo goes unchanged.
It’s going to take a movement to build a better health system. My hope is that the Schwarzman Scholarship will broaden my perspective so I can better contribute to those conversations of change.
What problem currently interests you most?
Well, they all do. Recently, though, I have been thinking a lot about injury prevention. According to the WHO, the No. 1 killer of children and young adults is motor vehicle collisions. But the even more sobering statistic is that 100% of collisions are preventable.
Now, as gloomy as that sounds, there is a bright side. Injury prevention is rife with low-hanging fruit. There are countless low-tech, low-cost solutions that can prevent unnecessary deaths.
For instance, I recently wrote a grant proposal to study bicycle reflectors in Malawi. It’s still up in the air, but it was recently advanced to the semi-finalist stage, which is exciting. Forty percent of Malawians use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. There’s also not a reliable energy grid to keep the streets lit at night. Reflectors are a cheap and scalable measure that could prevent countless fatalities on chronically dark roads.
I get flak for this sometimes, but I always start with the most idealistic scenario and then work backwards from there. For me, that scenario is a world where emergency rooms are empty because preventive, primary healthcare services are strong. The question isn’t “Is that realistic?” The question is always: “What’s the next step?”
What other plans do you have? How does your Baylor training fit in?
Well, I have to pass the “personal statement” test. In other words, 10 years from now, will I be found doing the things I said I would when I asked to be admitted to this profession?
In my case, passing that test means being a doctor for people who don’t have doctors. As long I am staying true to that aspiration, I would say things are going as planned.
My time at Baylor has been instrumental in helping that catch-all idealism take more defined shape, though. I applied to medical school thinking I wanted to be a family medicine doctor or study infectious diseases. But my time at Ben Taub Hospital has taken me on an unexpected turn into the realm of organized chaos – i.e., emergency medicine.
In the emergency room, you are many people’s first contact with the health system. You help create an essential safety net for society. You also develop a certain level of comfort managing some of the scariest situations in medicine. As Dr. Bryan Zink put it, “Anyone, Anything, Anytime.” That’s certainly the ethos of how I want to practice medicine. And it seems like fertile ground for linking frontline experience to larger conversations of systemic change, social justice and health equity. So that’s the plan. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m confident that my Baylor training is going to be a foundation on which I can pivot in any direction.
The Schwarzman Scholarship is the first scholarship of its kind, created to respond to the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century, aspiring to build a global network of young leaders that are prepared to confront the pressing challenges facing the world. Learn more here.
By Clarice Jacobson, senior business strategy and development associate, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine