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Hayley Goldbach

Changing Lives a World Away

Hayley Goldbach was never grossed out easily. Warts, pus, flakey skin — she was up for it all. So when she wanted to become a doctor, no one was really shocked. Today she’s a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), but right now she’s a world away, in Botswana, learning more about medicine and making people well. Read about how she’s making a difference, her plans for the future, and how she enjoys the journey along the way.

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How old are you?

I’m 23 years old.

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Where are you from?

I grew up outside of Boston, MA

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What made you decide to go to medical school?

This is a tough one. The honest answer is that a lot of things made me want to go to medical school. When I was in college, I tried to imagine having an interesting job. I also wanted to like what I was doing every day and feel like I was giving back in some way. For me, becoming a doctor was the obvious answer. So I applied to medical school.

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What was the application process like?

The application process was pretty intense. It starts with a test called the MCAT— a super-long test (like the SAT) with a lot of science and math questions on it. After that, I sent in my test scores and application to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). I also applied to each medical school I wanted to go to. After that, I was invited to interview at different schools. I took time off of work and flew all around the country to visit the schools. The process was stressful for me because I needed to do my interviews before I left the country to work in Botswana. I remember getting my first acceptance letter right before I left. I was so relieved!

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Why did you pick the University of Pennsylvania?

I think what drew me to Penn was their teaching style. People like to talk about all the "opportunities" at medical school, but it means nothing if students aren't valued and supported. Penn has it all. Most important, however, was that the students seemed happy to me.

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What kind of doctor do you want to be?

At this stage of the game, it's hard to narrow it down. I want to keep an open mind. But right now, I absolutely love dermatology. Dermatologists are doctors who look at your skin. They take care of kids and adults. They get to do all sorts of exams and tests. I have always been "that kid" who loves things that other people consider gross. Pus, flaky skin, warts, blisters — I love them all. Right now, I work with a dermatologist in Botswana, and the cases have been fascinating. I stay up all night reading about dermatology. I know that makes me a huge nerd, but I don't care. I'm loving it!

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What made you decide to go to Botswana?

I have an interest in global health, and I've always loved to travel. One of the reasons I chose to go to Penn is that they have a partnership with the Republic of Botswana, a country in Africa. There was never any question in my mind about how I'd be spending my last summer vacation before medical school. Because I’m interested in dermatology, I got in touch with Dr. Kovarik, an expert in international dermatology. She told me about the program she is working on in Botswana. And the rest is history.

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How long will you be in Botswana, and what kinds of things are you doing while you are there?

I will be here for almost seven weeks. I am doing many things while I am here. I work on a project related to vulvar cancer. I spend a lot of time in a lab looking at data. It might sound boring, but I really like it. It’s almost like a treasure hunt! I also help out in dermatology clinic. We see 15 to 20 patients every day. On Thursdays we go to other clinics. Since I am just a first-year medical student, my job is to help with the paperwork and learn as much as I can.

I’m also working on a few side projects. One is to help update a smartphone service for doctors to help them treat patients. The other is helping to install a new computer program for the doctors. As you can see, I like to stay busy!

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What has been the most rewarding thing you've done in Botswana so far?

As a first-year medical student, there is not a whole lot I can do in terms of actual medical stuff. But, I help out Doug in the clinic. Doug is a medical resident. That means he already graduated from medical school and is practicing more with other doctors. Because there are just two of us, I really get to be a part of the team. We get to see amazing patients. I love seeing patients. I literally never get sick of it.

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How is Botswana different from the United States?

In many ways, Botswana is just like the U.S. You can get anything you want or need in the capital city of Gaborone (say: gah-BOH-roh-NAY). There are plenty of upscale restaurants and stores. The people are very friendly. But, unlike in some U.S. cities, everything here is much more relaxed. There are a lot of things that remind me that I am in a developing country. The bus schedules are not online. The hospital is very unorganized at times, and there are mattresses on the floor instead of normal beds. I met a man who only had the year he was born on his government ID because he didn't know his actual birthday. But, the saddest difference to me is the unbelievable number of people infected with HIV.

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How do you stay healthy in another country?

One of my priorities on this trip was not to let myself get out of shape. I'd been running and doing Pilates in Philadelphia, so I wanted to keep it up as best as I could. Our walk to the hospital each morning is about 30 minutes each way, so that's not a bad start. On top of that, I've gone on a few runs. My favorite activity, however, is Pilates/abs/pushups with my friend Nathalie. We look absurd, but we have a great time.

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What do you think the future holds for you?

Looking at the future, I can choose to be overwhelmed by all the training ahead of me and the number of choices I will face soon. Or, I can be excited by all the possibilities in front of me. As best I can, I try to be excited. On most days I feel like a kid in a candy store!

In terms of my career, it's hard for me to say. I know that I would love to do something with international work and child health. Going into dermatology would be amazing, but I still have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to go that route. Along the way, I am simply going to try to enjoy the journey.


Content last reviewed September 01, 2011
Page last updated September 01, 2011

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.